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Equatorial Guinea Requests Arrest of Thatcher, Accused in Alleged Coup Plot - 2004-08-28

The government of Equatorial Guinea announced Saturday that it has requested an international arrest warrant for the son of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher for his alleged involvement in a failed coup attempt in the oil-rich west African nation. Mr. Thatcher is under house arrest in Cape Town, South Africa.

The deputy prime minister of Equatorial Guinea announced that international arrest warrants had been requested for anyone connected with the coup attempt, which the government says was foiled in March.

Mark Thatcher, Margaret Thatcher's 51-year-old son, was included on the list for warrants, but the government of Equatorial Guinea firmly denied requesting his extradition from South Africa.

Mr. Thatcher was arrested on Wednesday in Cape Town, but released on bail until a trial is set in November.

South Africa, which abolished the death penalty in 1994, has already said it would not extradite any suspect to a country that still employs capital punishment, such as Equatorial Guinea.

But observers at a current trial in the capital, Malabo, suggest that the international arrest warrants could allow Equatorial Guinea to administer further charges against Mark Thatcher, if and when he is tried in South Africa.

American diplomat Dan Vernon, who has been attending the trial in Equatorial Guinea since it began last Monday, says South African arms dealer Nick du Toit, a key state witness at the trial, testified that he had met Mr. Thatcher.

"My understanding of what he said was he had, in fact, met Mark Thatcher at a meeting arranged, I believe, by Simon Mann, at which the possible provision of helicopters was discussed," said Dan Vernon. "Nothing in my recollection of what [Nick] du Toit said would suggest that a coup plot in this country was discussed."

Simon Mann, a former British special forces officer, was found guilty Friday in Zimbabwe on charges of acquiring dangerous weapons in connection with the coup plot in Equatorial Guinea. But Mr. Mann contends the weapons were to protect a mining project in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

American diplomat Mr. Vernon, says Mr. du Toit was known to have many legitimate business operations in Equatorial Guinea and that the meeting with Mr. Thatcher should not directly implicate him in the coup plot.

Mr. du Toit is the only foreign defendant on trial in Equatorial Guinea to admit any involvement in the plot to overthrow longstanding President Teodoro Obiang Nguema.