MALABO - Equatorial Guinea demanded an explanation on Sunday from the British government after London revealed it had known of an alleged plot to topple the oil-rich state's leader more than a month before the scheme was foiled.
Second Deputy Prime Minister Ricardo Mangue Obama Nfube said Equatorial Guinea wanted to know how Britain had learned of a plot to topple President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo and why it had not informed his government.
Obiang's country of around half a million people has boomed to become sub-Saharan Africa's third-largest oil producer. Western governments and activists say it also has one of Africa's worst human rights records, a charge Obiang dismisses.
In a parliamentary answer last week to Britain's opposition Conservatives, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said the government was first informed of the plot in "late January 2004".
That was five or six weeks before Zimbabwe seized a U.S.-registered cargo plane carrying some 64 suspected mercenaries and a cargo of military gear.
One day later, on March 8, some 15 suspected mercenaries were arrested in Equatorial Guinea, and authorities said both groups were part of a plot to topple Obiang.
Mangue Obama said his government would seek more details from London about how it knew of the alleged coup plot, and why "despite the fact that this was an anti-constitutional and anti-democratic project, the British government did not give this information to the security services of Equatorial Guinea".
Britain has denied being involved in any plot to topple Obiang despite accusations from Zimbabwe that U.S., British and Spanish spy agencies did play a part.
Until now, Britain has let it be understood that it learned of the suspected coup through rumours and media reports which seem to have emerged after the plane was seized in Zimbabwe.
London's Foreign Office on Sunday declined to comment on Straw's latest statement due to pending court cases.
The government's opponents say Straw's revelations raise significant questions about who exactly informed the government and what it did with the information once it got it.
The fallout from the suspected plot has spread to Mark Thatcher, the son of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. He was arrested by South African police in August on suspicion of involvement. He has denied the accusations.
In September, a Zimbabwe court jailed former British special services officer Simon Mann for seven years and 67 suspected mercenaries, all South African citizens, for 12 months on charged linked to the suspected coup.
The trial of the suspected mercenaries in Equatorial Guinea is expected to resume in Malabo this week. (Additional reporting by Madeline Chambers in London)