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Last Updated: Monday, 21 July, 2003, 03:07 GMT 04:07 UK
Sao Tome ministers released
Soldiers in Sao Tome
The army is still in control in Sao Tome
Soldiers in Sao Tome and Principe have released half-a-dozen senior government officials who have been in detention since last week's coup.

The announcement came after several hours of talks with international mediators on Sunday.

"This is an important sign of our credibility in negotiating a solution to the crisis," said coup leader Major Fernando Pereira.

Full talks are expected to start on Monday, when a South African official joins the international team led by Angolan Interior Minister Osvaldo Serra Van-Dunem.

The released men, including Oil Minister Joaquim Rafael Branco, shook hands with the mediators, as they emerged after five days in jail.

Major Fernando Pereira
Pereira seized power on Wednesday
There are now hopes that President Rodriquez de Menezes, who was visiting Nigeria when the coup was staged, might be able to return.

"It's probably just a matter of days now, but these guys are going to want to take it one step at a time and this was a big enough step for the moment," one foreign official told Reuters news agency.

However, a memorandum issued late on Sunday said that the released ministers "cannot exert any pressure" on discussions about the country's future.

Nor will they be "automatically returned to power".

The mediators includes officials from Portuguese-speaking countries - Brazil, Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde and Portugal - as well as Gabon, Nigeria, Congo, and the United States.

Crude curse?

The coup leaders say they want to fight poverty in the oil-rich archipelago, which has a population of only 170,000.

An army takeover in 1995 was ended after a week, when Angolan mediators convinced the military to return to barracks.

Sao Tome has one of the world's highest foreign debts
The auctioning of oil permits in 2004 is due to net $100 million
Sao Tome will receive 40% and Nigeria 60% of eventual oil revenue

Wednesday's coup drew condemnation from the African Union, the United Nations and the United States.

Sao Tome and Principe, which has large oil reserves, agreed to share oil rights in the Gulf of Guinea with Nigeria earlier this year.

The airport was reopened to international flights on Thursday following a phone conversation between the coup leader and Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo.

The capital was calm on Sunday.

One taxi driver there told Reuters news agency: "Our country is too little for all this. Leave the oil and violence in Africa.

"In Sao Tome, we may be poor, but we have our bananas, our breadfruit and cocoa so we'll never starve death. It's better that way."

Sao Tome coup condemned
17 Jul 03  |  Africa
The Sao Tome coup-makers
17 Jul 03  |  Africa
Oil key to Sao Tome
16 Jul 03  |  Africa
Country profile: Sao Tome and Principe
27 May 03  |  Country profiles
Timeline: Sao Tome and Principe
16 Jul 03  |  Country profiles
Profile: Sao Tome coup leader
20 Jul 03  |  Africa


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