Six French soldiers and their helicopter that have been detained in Bata, Equatorial Guinea since July 28 have been released. The French soldiers who landed their helicopter in Bata without authorization were released on Friday, July 30, evening.
The French military high command had however explained that the unauthorized landing was due to a shortage of fuel in the helicopter which forced it to land but the Equato-Guinean authorities held that the helicopter was on an espionage mission.
The release of the French soldiers followed an excuse from Olivier Brochenin, the French Ambassador to Equatorial Guinea.
“I regret this incident. It happened because of two technical errors on our part, and we recognize them because we make errors. We had the chance of having a yearly overfly authorization. It is an honour and gesture of friendship which Equatorial Guinea accorded us. But this authorization provides that we give 72-hour notice before landing,” Brochenin said.
“For reasons of bad organisation, this notification did not take place. There was a second error: the authorization that we have and which is there to permit our security forces to cooperate normally is for a certain number of aircrafts identified by numbers.”
“For technical reasons, the helicopter that was identified on this list was under repairs and it was another helicopter that landed in Bata. It was a helicopter whose identification does not figure on the list of authorization. As an ambassador, I want to present my excuses to the government and authorities of Equatorial Guinea, if at all these errors caused misunderstandings,” the French diplomat added.
France and Equatorial Guinea have been at loggerheads for several years over French accusations against Teodorin Obiang Mengue, the Equatorial Guinea Vice President who happens to be the son of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Bazogo, alleging that he has been involving in flamboyant living in France with money stolen from the proceeds of petroleum sales while ordinary Equatorial-Guineans wallow in abject poverty.
Only last week, a French Appeal court upheld an embezzlement guilty verdict against Teodorin Obiang which is expected to result in the return of millions of euros in assets to Equatorial Guinea.
Teodorin Obiang was handed a suspended sentence and a 30 million euro fine in 2020 including the seizure of luxury residences and sportscars which were supposedly bought with money stolen from the Equatorial-Guinean treasury.
The arrest and detention of the French soldiers in Equatorial Guinea was probably exacerbated because of the issues of President Obiang Nguema’s son with the French legal authorities.
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