Letter to the Chairman of the Committee
from the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs,
14 December 2004
Thank you for your letter of 1 December about
I enclose a copy of my statement of the same
date, which I hope answers the first three questions in your letter.
On the fourth, I am satisfied that the guidance
on contact with private military and security companies was fully
complied with at all stages.
Rt Hon Jack Straw MP
Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
14 December 2004
STATEMENT (1 DECEMBER
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth
Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): My answer to the question from the Rt
Hon Member for Devizes (Mr. Michael Ancram) of 17 November (official
report column 1548W) set out what HM Government knew of reports
of a planned coup in Equatorial Guinea earlier this year. This
statement informs the House more widely of the position. At all
times we acted properly, promptly, and entirely in accordance
with international law.
The United Kingdom has normal diplomatic relations
with the government of Equatorial Guinea, which is a former Spanish
colony. We have no Embassy in the country. Our High Commissioner
in neighbouring Cameroon is accredited as Ambassador to Equatorial
Guinea and has responsibility for relations with Equatorial Guinea.
There is a British community of some hundreds, many involved in
the energy sector. We have an Honorary Consul and a Commercial
Attache in the capital, Malabo.
The country has in the past suffered political
instability. Rumours of upheaval and further instability are common.
For example there were reports picked up by BBC Monitoring in
October 2003 of an imminent planned coup. These appeared not to
be accurate; certainly, there was no coup.
On 29 January this year the Foreign Office received
an intelligence report of preparations for a possible coup in
Equatorial Guinea. The report was the first intelligence we had
received. It was not definitive enough for us to conclude that
a coup was likely or inevitable. It was passed by another government
to us on the normal condition that it not be passed on. There
were, coincidentally, reports on Spanish radio, and in both El
Pais and El Mundo on 30 January, making similar suggestions that
a coup was being planned in Equatorial Guinea, and reporting that
Spanish naval vessels were sailing towards the country.
British newspapers have this week reported that
a South African national, Johann Smith, is claiming to have passed
to contacts in British intelligence in December 2003 and in January
2004 a note setting out in detail plans for a coup. We have no
record of this information being passed to British officials at
any time before May 2004.
I received a submission (dated 30 January) from
FCO officials on the weekend of 30 January/1 February which summarised
both the media and intelligence reports and made recommendations
to me. I considered the case and agreed that the FCO should approach
an individual formerly connected with a British Private Military
company (mentioned in the report of 29 January), both to attempt
to test the veracity of the report, and to make clear that the
FCO was firmly opposed to any unconstitutional action such as
coups d'état. A senior Foreign Office official did
so within days. The individual concerned claimed no knowledge
of the plans.
On 3 February we changed our travel advice to
reflect our latest assessment. This read "visitors should
expect . . . isolated incidents of political unrest" in Equatorial
Guinea, particularly as "legislative elections are scheduled
for the first quarter of 2004".
In anticipation of these elections our Ambassador
in Yaounde was due to visit Malabo in early February. We instructed
him to continue with his planned visit. He found the situation
calm. But as a precaution, our consular crisis plan for Equatorial
Guinea was reviewed. Given our limited British representation,
it had not been recently updated.
We did not pass the report of 29 January to
the Equatorial Guinea government. It had been passed to us on
the condition that it not be passed on to any third party. But
there were two considerations of substance which led us to this
judgement in any event. First, because there had been media reports
about preparations for a possible coup which the Equatorial Guinea
government would already have seen. Second, because it was not
definitive enough for us to conclude that a coup was likely or
inevitable. Indeed, we went back to the originating government
and to another government which had also received the report to
check their belief in the veracity of the report. Their responses
gave no certainty. The fact that the rumours were in the public
domain suggested in any event that a successful coup was growing
There have been some suggestions in the press
that the British government were under a legal obligation to act
differently. We do not condone or support unconstitutional action
including coup d'état of any kind in other countries.
But my understanding is that governments are under no legal
obligation to pass on information which they may receive about
such possible action.
On 9 March we learned that the Zimbabwean authorities
had arrested a number of individuals in Harare, alleged to be
on their way to effect a coup in Equatorial Guinea. A number of
individuals were also arrested in Malabo in connection with the
alleged coup plot. Over the following months, the names of a number
of others allegedly involved appeared in the media.
On 28 August the Foreign Office Press Office
was asked by The Observer if the government knew before
March that a coup was going to happen. It replied, correctly,
that the FCO did not. As I told the Rt Hon Member for Devizes
on 9 November 1 had first heard reports of possible coup planning
in late January this year. And this I followed up with a fuller
account for the House in my answer to the Rt Hon Member's questions
on 17 November.