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By Hrach Melkumian
Armenia lashed out at Equatorial Guinea on Monday for convicting six Armenian nationals of dubious coup charges, with a senior Foreign Ministry official describing the former Spanish colony as a hostage-taking “rogue state.”

In its most vocal condemnation yet of lengthy prison sentences given to the aircrew of an Armenian transport plane, official Yerevan held out little hope for the verdict’s repeal by the west African nation’s Supreme Court and pledged to concentrate on other possible ways of their liberation. According to Ambassador Sergey Manaserian, the options include amnesty, extradition to Armenia and acquittal by an international court of justice.

“It is obvious that the Supreme Court will hardly overturn the verdict. But that is a necessary step for appealing to an international court,” Manaserian told a news conference.

“We will not leave [Equatorial Guinea] alone from any direction. Sooner or later we must achieve success. This can not continue endlessly,” he said.

The diplomat, who was Armenia’s ambassador to Egypt until recently, met reporters the day after his return from the Equato-Guinean capital Malabo where he attended the concluding session of the pilots’ trial and met senior members of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema’s regime. He said he passed on to them President Robert Kocharian’s second letter to Obiang asking for the Armenians’ release and offered the local regime to sign an extradition agreement that would pave the way for their repatriation.

Captain Ashot Karapetian and the five members of his aircrew were sentenced to 24 and 14 years’ imprisonment respectively on November 26 on charges of involvement in a reported plot to topple Obiang, in power since 1979. They were jailed along with five South Africans accused of being an advance party of foreign mercenaries arrested in Zimbabwe last March.

All of the defendants pleaded not guilty to the charges which a leading global human rights group, Amnesty International, has described as unsubstantiated. Amnesty denounced the trial as “grossly unfair” in a statement last week.

“The accusations are nonsense. The trial and the verdict were politically motivated,” Manaserian said bluntly.

He confirmed that he another Armenian diplomat were allowed to visit the pilots in Malabo’s notorious Black Beach prison. “The plight of the guys is very severe,” he said. First of all because they still wear shackles. They [the Equato-Guinean authorities] have repeatedly promised us to remove them and have repeatedly lied.”

The aircrew have reportedly been handcuffed and shackled 24 hours a day ever since their arrest in March. Amnesty International regards this as “cruel, degrading and inhumane treatment.”

Manaserian said that the Armenian government will exert pressure on Equatorial Guinea through international organizations as well. But he cautioned that Yerevan will have to be careful not to further aggravate the pilots’ plight. “We must never forget that they are holding six hostages,” he said. “I can’t say how a particular demonstration would reflect on their condition.”

“You see, dealing with rogue states is quite difficult,” Manaserian added.

(Photolur photo: Sergei Manaserian.)
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