- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 22, 2004

LONDON — Equatorial Guinea is threatening to take action against Britain in the International Court of Justice for not passing on intelligence of a plot to stage a coup in the oil-rich dictatorship.

Its officials want the court in The Hague to censure Britain for failing its obligations under two international conventions: prevention of crimes against internationally protected persons, and the suppression of terrorist bombings.

Equatorial Guinea’s diplomats will present the Foreign Office with a formal note expressing displeasure over British actions before the end of the year. Anticipating an unsatisfactory response, it is preparing to file a complaint with the court of justice in an effort to embarrass the British government.

“This step is contemplated because Equatorial Guinea wants to make formal objections to the actions of the British government,” said an adviser to Equatorial Guinea’s attorney general.

“The information they had clearly threatened the life of the president and also indicated a violation of the terrorism convention. They should have respected international law in this regard.”

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has admitted that his department received details of a plan to overturn the government of Equatorial Guinea in January. The information came from a foreign intelligence service and the Foreign Service was bound by a duty of confidentiality not to distribute it. Mr. Straw has pointed out, however, that two Spanish newspapers reported on the coup plans days later.

“It was not definitive enough for us to conclude that a coup was likely or inevitable,” he told his Conservative shadow, Michael Ancram, last month. “It was passed by another government to us on the normal condition that it not be passed on.”

Nonetheless, Mr. Straw’s defense of the government’s failure to alert Equatorial Guinea has been criticized by the regime in Malabo, the capital, as a betrayal of trust. A finding by The Hague in favor of Equatorial Guinea would have little practical consequences for Britain. It would, however, amount to a ruling of disapproval from the United Nations’ highest court, which would be potentially embarrassing in diplomatic terms.

A purported coup attempt involving the exiled opposition leader, Severo Moto, British businessmen and South African mercenaries was thwarted in March after an ex-Special Air Services airborne commando, Simon Mann, was arrested in Harare, Zimbabwe.

Mr. Mann has since been sentenced to seven years in prison for weapons offenses in Zimbabwe. The government of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema has pursued a plethora of legal actions around the world against people it claims knew about or funded the prospective coup.

It has demanded the right to question former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s son, Mark Thatcher, who is accused of having funded part of the operation.

Mr. Thatcher has been remanded on bail in Cape Town, South Africa, since August.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: “We are cooperating with the government of Equatorial Guinea in its representations to us regarding these matters.

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