By Emil Danielyan
Six Armenian nationals are among the foreigners arrested in the west African state of Equatorial Guinea last week on suspicion of plotting to overthrow its president, the Foreign Ministry in Yerevan confirmed on Tuesday.
A ministry spokesman told RFE/RL that all of them are commercial pilots employed by a private airline. “Everything necessary is being done through diplomatic channels to clarify the situation and ascertain the needs of our citizens,” he said. “Information received from there has so far been contradictory.”
The Armenian government’s civil aviation department said last week that four Armenian pilots had been operating since January an Antonov-12 plane of the Yerevan-registered Tiga Air carrier that was chartered to carry out commercial flights in the region. Department officials were not available for comment on Tuesday.
Armenia has no diplomatic missions in sub-Saharan Africa and it was not clear if it has already established direct contact with authorities in Equatorial Guinea. The Foreign Ministry said earlier that Armenian diplomats abroad were instructed to approach Guinean and other African embassies in third countries.
“It’s a difficult country with an extremely complicated political situation,” a diplomatic source said of the former Spanish colony ruled by what the U.S. State Department regards as one of the most repressive regimes in the world.
Equatorial Guinea claims that the Armenians and the other detained foreigners, among them citizens of South Africa, Germany and Kazakhstan, are “mercenaries” who arrived in the country last December to stage a coup against its president, Teodoro Obiang Nguema. They were described as an advance party of a larger group of alleged mercenaries seized in Zimbabwe two days before. Zimbabwean authorities have accused U.S., British and Spanish spy agencies of involvement in the scheme -- a charge all three countries have denied.
AFP reported on Monday that a South African released by Equatorial Guinea has dismissed the case against the detainees as “absurd.” The man, Johan Espag, said that they are in fact legitimate businessmen who would be totally incapable of staging a coup and were only interested in discussing farming and fisheries projects in the oil-rich nation.
Obiang has ruled it with an iron fist since seizing power in a coup in 1979. Following the arrests he reportedly launched a harsh crackdown on foreigners living in Equatorial Guinea. Scores of citizens of neighboring African states, including Ghana, have already been expelled from the country.
Incidentally, Ghana’s new Moscow-based ambassador to Armenia was in Yerevan on Tuesday to present his credentials to President Robert Kocharian and Deputy Foreign Minister Tatul Markarian. Official statements quoted both men as telling the diplomat, Francis Yahaya Mahama, that Ghana could play a major role in fostering Armenia’s ties with the African continent. There was no word on the Equatorial Guinea crisis.