Page last updated at 22:17 GMT, Sunday, 1 May 2005 23:17 UK

E Guinea exile returns to Spain

Severo Moto
Moto said that being a Catholic saved his life

Equatorial Guinea's exiled opposition leader, Severo Moto, has returned to Spain, saying he had recently escaped an assassination attempt in Croatia.

Mr Moto said he had left his Spanish home for Croatia to seek political funding, but was nearly murdered while on a boat off the Croatian coast.

He accused Equatorial Guinea and Spain of colluding to have him killed. Both countries deny the accusation.

Mr Moto was accused of involvement in an attempted coup last year.

He set up a self-proclaimed government in exile two years ago in Madrid, where he has lived since the mid-1980s.

He says he is being targeted because Spain wants good relations with Equatorial Guinea, its former colony, in order to explore for oil.

Catholic sympathies

Speaking at a news conference, Mr Moto said he had felt "weak and unprotected" in Spain, and so he had gone to Croatia to try to raise funds for his political work.

He said that he was taken for a trip on a yacht by men who planned to kill him, but "the assassins became my angels" after they changed their minds.

Mr Moto suggested that he had been spared because the Croats did not want to kill a fellow Catholic.

He demanded an official Spanish investigation of events, but could offer no evidence of Spanish involvement in the alleged plot to kill him.

Trinidad Jimenez, international secretary for Spain's ruling Socialist party, told news agency AFP: "We are not aware of any sort of attempted kidnapping or plot."

Meanwhile, Equatorial Guinea rejected Mr Moto's allegations.

"The presidency of Equatorial Guinea does not recall having made an order [for an attack] against the life and physical integrity of Severo Moto," government adviser Miguel Mifumu told AFP.

Equatorial Guinea says that Mr Moto would have been installed as leader, had last year's coup, which had links to the UK, South Africa and Zimbabwe, succeeded.

A court in Equatorial Guinea sentenced 19 people, including Mr Moto, to jail over the coup plot in November.

Other alleged mercenaries are in prison in Zimbabwe, while Sir Mark Thatcher, son of the former UK prime minister, has pleaded guilty to unknowingly helping to finance the plot to seize power in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea.

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