Dakar — Severo Moto, the exiled leader of the opposition movement in Equatorial Guinea, has gone missing from his home in Spain and police are investigating his disappearance amid fears that he may have been assassinated.
A Foreign Ministry official in Madrid told IRIN on Wednesday that the Spanish government was looking into reports of Moto's disappearance, but "has no information for the moment on his fate."
Moto, a former political prisoner in Equatorial Guinea, heads a self-styled government in exile in Madrid. He has repeatedly been accused by President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, of trying to topple his regime.
The official website of the government in exile said in an announcement on Tuesday that Moto's wife, Margarita Eki, had requested Spanish police to investigate her husband's disappearance.
The government in exile said it was "extremely concerned" by Moto's disappearance and suggested that Obiang's government may have tried to murder him.
Another dissident website, run by the Association of the Friends of Democracy in Equatorial Guinea (ASODEGUE), quoted the deputy leader of Moto's Equatorial Guinea Progress Party, Armengol Engonga, as saying that he and Moto had last spoken by telephone eight days ago, while Moto was on a trip abroad.
Moto had mentioned nothing out of the ordinary during that conversation, it added.
Moto and eight other members of the government in exile were convicted last year of masterminding a failed plan to depose Obiang Nguema with the help of mercenaries flown into the oil-rich Central African country from South Africa.
They were tried in their absence and Moto was sentenced to 63 years in jail in November. It was the third time that a court in Equatorial Guinea had convicted him of political offences.
The prosecution charged Moto with planning an abortive mercenary invasion of the former Spanish colony in March 2004 that was nipped in the bud when a plane carrying the alleged invasion force was intercepted in Zimbabwe.
According to prosecution evidence presented at the trial, the invasion attempt was financed by a group of overseas businessmen, including Mark Thatcher, son of the former prime minister Margaret Thatcher.
Thatcher was subsequently fined by a South African court after admitting that he supplied a helicopter which was due to be used in the venture.
Obiang, who has ruled Equatorial Guinea for 26 years since deposing and killing his uncle in 1979, has been widely accused of human rights abuse and of corruption involving oil revenues that have poured in over the past decade.
Last week Amnesty International said that prisoners being held in Equatorial Guinea's notorious Black Beach prison outside the capital Malabo were facing death by starvation.
Obiang Nguema denied the allegation, saying on national radio that "although there are many prisoners incarcerated at Black Beach, they are well treated."
Amnesty said those most at risk were dozens of political prisoners arrested last year who were being held without trial and 15 foreign nationals who were deprived of contact with family and lawyers.
The foreigners include six Armenians and five South Africans who were convicted in November of preparing the ground for the failed mercenary invasion in March.
Amnesty said prison officials reduced the daily food ration for Black Beach inmates in December from a cup of rice per day to one or two bread rolls. Since the end of February "provision of any prison food at all has been sporadic," it added.
Black Beach is situated near the capital Malabo on Bioko, a mountainous volcanic island formally known as Fernando Poo, where Equatorial Guinea's offshore oil industry is based.
The rest of Equatorial Guinea is situated on the African mainland, 200 km to the southeast. It comprises a block of thickly forested country wedged between Gabon and Cameroon.
Equatorial Guinea produces 350,000 barrels per day of oil and has become Africa's third-biggest oil producer after Nigeria and Angola, but most of its 500,000 people still live in dire poverty.
[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations ]