Oil-rich country that leaves its terrorised people in poverty

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The Independent Online

Equatorial Guinea, the tiny West African country nestling between Cameroon and Gabon, became a prime target for mercenary interest in the mid-1990s when oil deposits were discovered off its coastline.

Since then, it has become Africa's third biggest oil producer,pumping out 350,000 barrels a day. As President Teodoro Obiang Nguema has said, it is this "new honey" that "attracts the foreign bees".

But ordinary Guineans have reaped few rewards from it. Most continue to live in poverty, while President Obiang has been accused of siphoning off the majority of oil profits into his own coffers.

When he toppled the rule of his uncle in 1979, President Obiang promised his people that years of brutal dictatorship were at an end. But his regime soon became one of the most repressive and abusive in the world, led by a man labelled a "cannibal" by his rivals.

President Obiang's Equatorial Guinea may declare itself a constitutional democracy, but it appears a dictatorship, which uses rigged elections and harassment of political rivals to keep itself in power.

The country's economic upsurge has given fresh impetus to separatist movements and ethnic rivalries. President Obiang claims to have discovered numerous attempts to remove him from power over the past few years.

But members of the opposition have suggested that some of these coup attempts may in reality be nothing more than fabrications designed by the President as an excuse for clamping down on his rivals.

Tales of torture and killings abound; President Obiang's regime has been denounced as one of the worst abusers of human rights in the world. Amnesty International has issued reports on the harassment of political opponents, citing evidence of imprisonments without trial and torture.

Opposition activity is also hampered by media censorship. It comes as no surprise, then, that in the past two "multi-party" elections held in the country, President Obiang has won 98 per cent of the vote.

But the president's crimes may be even worse than that. Severo Moto Nsa, the rival leader of a government-in-exile in Spain and the man who was to take power in the alleged latest coup plot, has described President Obiang as a cannibal who "eats his political rivals".

Mr Moto claims that the president was told by local soothsayers to kill the people close to him to keep his grip on power. Since then he has allegedly murdered and eaten people he views as a threat.

"He has devoured a police commissioner," Mr Moto told a Spanish radio station in March. "I say 'devoured', as this commissioner was buried without his testicles and brain. We are in the hands of a cannibal."

And Mr Moto sees himself as a prime target: "Obiang wants me to go back to Guinea ... [so he can] eat my testicles."