Britain 'did not disclose warning of coup plot'

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The British Government was told of an alleged plot to overthrow Equatorial Guinea's government months in advance, it was reported yesterday. The revelations included the names of mercenaries and the expected date of the attack.

The British Government was told of an alleged plot to overthrow Equatorial Guinea's government months in advance, it was reported yesterday. The revelations included the names of mercenaries and the expected date of the attack.

Two senior MI6 officers were said to have been sent detailed reports in December 2003 and January 2004 by a former South African special forces commander, Johann Smith, who had learnt of the plot. The alleged coup was exposed in March by South African intelligence services, and scores of accused mercenaries were arrested in Equatorial Guinea and in Zimbabwe.

The Observer said that, despite clear obligations under international law, the British Government failed to warn the government of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema.

The Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told the House of Commons this month that his department had received "confidential information" about the plot in January, but could not verify it independently, and so did not pass it on.

Meanwhile, the European Union commissioner Peter Mandelson dismissed claims that South African police were hoping to question him over the alleged coup.

He was said to have twice spoken to Ely Calil, a Lebanese businessman alleged to have helped finance the action, about the British Government's attitude towards a regime change.

Mr Mandelson said: "I have consistently denied speaking to Mr Calil about this and he has also confirmed that there has not been any discussion between us."

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