São Tomé coup suspects go on trial

Eighteen opposition members, including alleged mercenaries from South Africa’s former “Buffalo battalion” (sic), went on trial yesterday in Sío Tomé and Príncipe over an alleged coup attempt in the tiny west African island nation in 2003.
French news agency AFP reports the accused are all members of the opposition Christian Democratic Front (FDC), including the party head Arlecio Costa.

Eight are former soldiers in the “Buffalo battalion”, which AFP erroneously described as a “South African corps of São Tomé ex-mercenaries”. The “Buffalo battalion” was in fact a nickname of the SA Army’s 32 Battalion, a largely Angolan formation formed in the aftermath of SA’s intervention there in 1975-6. It reportedly included some São Tomé expatriates. The unit was disbanded in 1993.

No South African national has been implicated in the plot.

The judge said Costa was additionally charged with the illegal possession of firearms.

The suspects face three charges including criminal association, illegal possession of weapons and plotting an attack against the security of the state. They have been detained since their arrest on February 11, the supposed date of the coup.

The alleged mercenaries and army soldiers briefly toppled the government in São Tomé and Principe in July 2003, denouncing widespread poverty and corruption in this former Portuguese colony of about 140 000 people.