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Bernardino Ndze Biyoa
17 Feb 2009 14:20
Gunmen in motor boats attacked oil-producing Equatorial Guinea’s island capital early on Tuesday, triggering a fire fight with government forces and a helicopter gunship, residents and media reports said.
The West African country’s information minister said armed forces repulsed the seaborne attack by Nigerian Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend) guerrillas, killing several.
But Mend denied its fighters were involved. “We heard of the incident but Mend is not involved at all.
The people are paranoid,” it said in a statement to Reuters.
Residents in the capital Malabo, the island hub of the fast-growing offshore oil industry in sub-Saharan Africa’s third biggest crude producer, said they were woken by heavy gunfire from the vicinity of the presidential palace early on Tuesday.
The former Spanish colony has suffered decades of instability and in 2004 dozens of foreign mercenaries were caught trying to overthrow the president.
“It seems more like a criminal act than something political. The government of Equatorial Guinea has ruled out a coup d’etat. At the moment, the situation is calm,” a Spanish Foreign Ministry spokesperson said.
Government helicopters and jets took to the air over the city during the engagement, said a Western resident who declined to be identified.
“The situation has returned to something like calm. There was obviously some attack or attempted attack made in the vicinity of the presidential compound,” he said.
“It involved automatic weapons fire. There was active engagement for at least an hour. There are consistent reports that some sort of launch or fast boats were used. At least one put people ashore before the shooting started,” he said.
A police source speaking on condition of anonymity said security forces had repulsed the suspected mercenaries, killing one and arresting another.
Military sources said several of the group had been wounded in the exchanges and one of two boats they used had been destroyed. Others had managed to escape into the city, they said.
The gunmen’s objective was not immediately clear.
Spanish state news agency EFE quoted Equatorial Guinean government spokesperson Jeronimo Osa as blaming the attack on an armed group operating in the oil-rich Gulf of Guinea around Nigeria’s Niger Delta. Gunmen from the region have previously launched sea-borne attacks on Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea.
Osa said the attackers had arrived in motorised open wooden boats and had been repelled by presidential guards. Soldiers then took up positions in the streets, EFE reported. There were two casualties, but he did not say from which side.
“We were woken up to gunfire at about 4am. It lasted for about three hours. It was coming from the presidency. Now it is calm,” one resident, who declined to be named, told Reuters by phone.
“We don’t know what is happening. We are waiting for information. For now the city is blocked off. We can’t get in.”
However, another resident said the shooting had come from a part of the town some way away from the presidency.
“I’m told that two or three boats landed and shooting began, and the military responded with land forces, naval forces and air force—a helicopter gunship—and that the situation is now under control,” said the second resident, who declined to be quoted or identify his sources.
A Spaniard living in Malabo, identified only as Daniel, told Spain’s La Ser radio: “We heard shooting near our house and helicopters flying overhead, and we don’t know much more.”—Reuters
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