Exiled leader of Equatorial Guinea coup plot goes missing

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The Independent Online

Severo Moto, the exiled opposition leader of Equatorial Guinea who was to have been installed as President by coup plotters, has been missing for a week amid fears for his life, according to Spanish authorities.

Severo Moto, the exiled opposition leader of Equatorial Guinea who was to have been installed as President by coup plotters, has been missing for a week amid fears for his life, according to Spanish authorities.

"We are working intensively and with deep concern to establish the whereabouts of Mr Moto ... we don't know where he is. There are all sorts of rumours, but so far we have no evidence to confirm any of them," said Bernardino Leon, Spain's state secretary for foreign affairs.

But Spanish press reports quoted a government source yesterday as saying that reports they had received "lead us increasingly to the conviction that he has been killed."

Mr Moto has political asylum in Spain where he leads a self-styled government in exile. He is a fierce opponent of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, who accuses Mr Moto of being behind a coup attempt in the oil-rich west African country in March last year.

The plot was foiled when a former SAS captain, Simon Mann, and a group of mercenaries were arrested in Zimbabwe as they waited to collect arms. Mr Mann is serving a four-year jail term, while a court in Equatorial Guinea has sentenced 19 people, including Mr Moto, to jail over the coup plot.

Mark Thatcher, the son of the former prime minister, was fined after pleading guilty to help finance the coup. Mr Moto's wife, Margarita Eki, made a statement to Spanish police yesterday denouncing the possible disappearance of her husband, from whom she had heard nothing for several days.

The Spanish government, who keeps Mr Moto under close supervision, has had no news of him for more than a month, El Pais reported yesterday. The newspaper said: "He travelled to Croatia in early March, returned to Spain and went again to Croatia on 19 March on a business trip, possibly to meet entrepreneurs from his country."

Croatian police said they had no information on Mr Moto's whereabouts and did not know if he had visited Croatia in March. "It is difficult to know if he visited Croatia as so many foreigners travel here. Also, we have not received an official Interpol request to investigate the case, but if do we shall certainly act on that," a Croatian interior ministry spokesman said.

Equatorial Guinea, a former Spanish colony, recalled its ambassador from Madrid last summer in protest at Spain's refusal to extradite Mr Moto, whom Guinean authorities accuses of masterminding the coup attempt.

Spain's Foreign Minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos, did, however, promise that Spain would not serve as a base for preparing any future coup attempts. Mr Moratinos gave his guarantee to Mr Obiang on a visit to Equatorial Guinea early this year.

Armengol Engongo, a close associate of Mr Moto, said yesterday that he had received a telephone call from him just over a week ago, apparently from Rome. Mr Engonga said he had no reason to suspect anything amiss, that Mr Moto habitually made trips without warning and later returned with no hint about where he had been.

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