By Hannatu Sadiq
Six French soldiers were held at the airport of Bata on Thursday, at the economic capital of Equatorial Guinea, after landing their helicopter the day before to refuel, the French army and the state radio of the small Central African country said.
“They landed on Wednesday at 2:15 p.m. because they had run out of fuel. At that moment began a sequence of administrative hassles,” French military spokesman Colonel Pascal Ianni told AFP, adding that they were still waiting for permission to take off again.
“We are negotiating. We’re facing an incident like we’ve seen before. They are holding the helicopter and the crew,” he also said.
On Thursday evening, TVGE, the Equatorial Guinean state radio, had claimed that the helicopter had landed without authorization. The French soldiers were then taken to the central police station in Bata, it added.
“The national authorities do not exclude that this military incident is an operation of espionage and provocation of Paris,” the TVGE also assured.
“There is no case of espionage. We have all the necessary authorizations,” said a French military official on condition of anonymity.
“We stop regularly in Bata, but we also regularly have coordination problems with the Bata airport. The control tower does not give permission to land because of overzealousness,” he added.
The French helicopter in Bata is an unarmed Fennec type, unarmed. It was carrying out a logistical link between Douala, the economic capital of Cameroon, and Libreville, the capital of Gabon, which houses the military base of the French Elements in Gabon, located south of Equatorial Guinea.