E Guinea releases 7 suspects

2010-03-24 21:13
Malabo - An Equatorial Guinea court has released seven suspects in a seaborne attack on the presidential palace a year ago and is due to sentence 11 others, the government and a witness said on Wednesday.

The seven were freed on Monday while the sentences for the others, for whom prosecutors have demanded at least 20 years in jail, were expected in a few days, said a witness, confirmed in a report on the information ministry website.

Eleven Equatorial Guineans - members of the opposition People's Union party - and seven Nigerians were charged with "terrorism" after the February 17 2009 attack that the government says targeted President Teodoro Obiang Nguema.

The released were seven Equatorial Guinea nationals, the witness said.

Court president Antonio Pascual Oko Ebobo announced on Monday they were freed on the request of the prosecution "because of their evident innocence", said the witness.

Mastermind tried in absentia

The prosecution also demanded 12-year prison terms for the remaining Equatorial Guineans and 20 years for the Nigerians.

At the start of the trial this month, state prosecutor general Carlos Mangue had called for sentences of between 20 and 30 years.

He also urged the court to require the alleged mastermind of the attack, former People's Union leader Faustino Ebang Ondo who was tried in absentia, pay the president approximately $610 000.

Ebang Ondo has taken refuge in Spain.

Defence lawyers urged all the defendants to be released for lack of proof.

The arrested Nigerians told interrogators they were on their way by sea to Cameroon when they were driven off course by a storm and stopped by the Equatorial Guinea navy.

The army repelled the attack which officials said at the time involved fighters from the rebel Nigerian Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, which later denied involvement.

The government said the boat on which the militants had arrived was destroyed and one Equatorial Guinea soldier killed and several wounded.

Equatorial Guinea, Africa's third-biggest oil exporter, has a history of coups, the last successful one being when the current president, Nguema, toppled his uncle in 1979.

- SAPA
Read more on:    teodoro obiang nguema  |  equatorial guinea  |  central africa
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