Pardoned British mercenary leaves E Guinea

By Time of article published Nov 4, 2009

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British mercenary Simon Mann, granted amnesty for a 2004 failed coup plot in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea, on Wednesday left the west African country on a private jet, an airport official said.

"He left with members of his family around 7:00 am (0600 GMT)," the official told AFP.

"The plane should be going to Britain," he added but did not give details of the flight plan.

Sources had said on Tuesday that Mann, who is 57, could go to another country than Britain.

Equatorial Guinea on Tuesday pardoned and freed Mann and South African Nick du Toit as well as three other South Africans, Sergio Cardoso, Jose Sundays and George Alerson, who were jailed for the 2004 bid to oust President Teodoro Obiang Nguema.

The British and South African mercenary leaders had been jailed for 34 years each for their role in the plot.

The former British Special Air Service officer underwent hernia surgery last year and his state of health was one of the reasons for the amnesty, national radio said, announcing a November 2 decree.

After his release on Tuesday Mann had spent the day at a hotel near Malabo airport where his family arrived earlier on the same jet that took him out of the country.

The South Africans have been handed over to their embassy in Malabo and were still in the country as South African President Jacob Zuma arrived in Equatorial Guinea for a long planned visit late Tuesday.

Zuma was to travel to Malabo later on Wednesday.

Mann was arrested in March 2004 along with 61 other people when their plane landed in Zimbabwe. He spent four years in a Zimbabwe prison on firearms charges before being deported to Equatorial Guinea.

At his trial there, Mann implicated Mark Thatcher, son of Britain's former prime minister Margaret Thatcher, in the plot to oust Equatorial Guinea's leader, who has run the country since a 1979 coup that ousted his uncle. The plot aimed to bring exiled opposition leader Severo Moto to power.

Mann, who attended Britain's prestigious Eton school and Sandhurst military academy, was said to be the brains behind the coup attempt. He told his trial last year that Spain and South Africa had backed the plot.

Mann and Du Toit had set up Executive Outcomes, which operated from Pretoria and helped the Angolan government protect its oil installations from rebels during that country's long civil war.

Mann, who lived in the Cape Town suburb of Constantia - also home to Earl Spencer, brother of the late Princess Diana, and until recently Mark Thatcher - allegedly used the 'old boy' network to finance his deals.

Thatcher pleaded guilty in a South African court to helping finance the planned coup and was given a four-year suspended prison sentence.

Thatcher, 56, issued a one-sentence statement after Mann's release saying he was "delighted" that he would soon be reunited with his family.

The mercenaries' release came as Equatorial Guinea opens its presidential election campaign on Thursday. The vote is set for November 29 and Obiang Nguema is seeking another mandate.

The largely impoverished country is Africa's third biggest oil producer after Nigeria and Angola following the discovery of large offshore oil deposits in the early 1990s.

Obiang Nguema in 1987 created the Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea, which dominates the political apparatus and leads a coalition of nine parties among the 13 that are legally recognised.

Since multi-party politics were introduced in 1991, the PDGE has easily won all elections. - Sapa-AFP

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