Potential Hot Spots: July 16, 2003


: Troops rebelled in Sao Tome and Principe, detaining Prime Minister Maria das Neves and Public Works Minister Joaquim Rafael Branco (who is responsible for the country's development of oil resources). President Fradique de Menezes was reportedly out of the country. Shots were heard at 3AM and sporadic fighting could still be heard five hours later in the capital Sao Tome, but soldiers quickly took control of the presidential palace, the parliament building, airport, central bank, state radio and television headquarters. No injuries were reported and soldiers were soon patrolling the capital's mostly empty streets.

Major Fernando Pereira, head of Sao Tome's military training center, was the apparent coup leader and there is little chance of internal resistance. In a radio message, he called on members of parliament and the government to gather at the police headquarters. The Health and Justice Ministers, as well as about 30 out of 55 Parliamentarians, had already surrendered to the mutineers. Pereira also said that they acted "due to the continuing social and economic decline of the country." 

The former Portuguese colony consists of a handful of islands in the Atlantic Ocean, straddling the equator, off the coast of west Africa's Gabon. It is one of the world's poorest countries, with a population of about 140,000 and armed forces mustering only about 900 troops. Rival political parties have feuded over newly discovered oil wealth in the Gulf of Guinea, which could mean one of two futures: graft lining the pockets of unscrupulous individuals in positions to sign the contracts or quick economic development and higher living standards. Two recent diplomatic moves might have been driving the mutineers.

Nigeria and Sao Tome recently set aside their maritime border disputes to form a 60:40 percent venture in nine ultra-deepwater offshore oil blocks. Nigeria and Sao Tome's Joint Development Authority then said they would make public the results of an expected $200 million tender for joint offshore oil acreage. This came after calls for greater financial transparency in the region, since secrecy and large amounts of money are a recipe for corruption. Some Western oil companies have said they were ready to reveal financial details, (including multi-million-dollar "signature bonuses" for oil concessions) but were prevented from doing so by host governments confidentiality agreements.

On June 25, Angola and So-Tom signed a memorandum reinforcing bilateral cooperation for police training and other areas of common interest (like sending their military staff to Angola for training).

In 1995 the government was toppled and detained in bloodless coup, but reinstated within days after pressure Western donor countries. - Adam Geibel


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