The 1981 Seychelles coup d'état attempt, sometimes referred to as the Seychelles affair or Operation Angela, was a failed South African-orchestrated mercenary takeover attempt in the country of Seychelles.
|1981 Seychelles coup d'état attempt|
|Part of the Cold War|
1982 CIA map of East Africa with Seychelles in the center
|Commanders and leaders|
|Unknown human strength
2 armoured vehicles
|53 agents and mercenaries
1 chartered aircraft
|Casualties and losses|
|1 soldier killed
1 police officer wounded
1 armoured vehicle damaged
|1 mercenary killed
2 mercenaries wounded
5 mercenaries arrested
1 NIS agent arrested
1 accomplice arrested
1 aircraft disabled
|Approximately 70 people in the airport terminal were taken hostage by the mercenaries. They also hijacked an aircraft with 65 passengers and 13 crew aboard. The aircraft was later relinquished and the hostages were released.|
The Republic of Seychelles achieved independence on 29 June 1976. James Mancham was president and France-Albert René was prime minister, but relations between the two quickly soured. In 1977 René's leftist supporters launched an armed coup while Mancham was in London. Though René denied any responsibility, he assumed the presidency in June. Two plots were formulated the following year to depose him, but they failed. In 1979 his party won an election and he pursued a socialist agenda, upsetting the small but influential middle class population. His reign also saw the withdrawal of South Africa's landing rights as well as a deterioration of economic ties between the two countries. René frequently warned that sympathizers of the old government were conspiring to use mercenaries to stage a counter-coup. Most of his critics dismissed the alleged plots as exaggerated or even fabricated excuses to jail political opponents.
In 1978 the deposed Mancham approached the South African government through Seychelles exiles to garner support for a counter-coup. The South African government was willing to set aside a small number of special forces for a plot, but directed Mancham's representative to Mike Hoare. "Mad" Mike Hoare had served as a mercenary during the Congo Crisis and, at the time, had retired to Hilton, KwaZulu-Natal and was living as a stock broker and investment manager. He agreed to lead the coup.
South African officials organized the coup under the code name "Operation Angela". As plans developed, an internal struggle developed between the Defence Intelligence Division (SADF-ID) and the National Intelligence Service (NIS) over which agency would be responsible for the operation. In the end, SADF was charged with the plot but an NIS agent, Martin Dolinchek, was appointed to be a liaison officer with the task force. Seychellois exiles Gérard Hoarau, Paul Chow, and Edie Camille helped orchestrate the coup plot. Hoare determined that bringing in weapons via boat was, in spite of its effectiveness, too expensive a method to carry out.
Hoare managed to assemble a force of 54 white putschists (himself included). Of these, 27 were members of the South African Defence Force, 9 ex-Rhodesian soldiers, 7 ex-Congo mercenaries, 1 NIS agent (Dolinchek), and 3 civilians. Hoare also advised that US$5 million be raised for the operation, but only US$300,000 was garnered. The rest of the mercenaries' salaries would come from the Seychelles Treasury.
Nine of Hoare's team were sent to the island of Mahé, Seychelles in advance. They were to identify potential targets and rally support from dissident Seychellois soldiers. The rest would arrive on a chartered Royal Swazi National Airways plane in the afternoon of 25 November 1981 disguised as vacationing rugby players and members of a charitable beer drinking club. They took the name of their beer club –Ye Ancient Order of Froth-Blowers (AOFB)– from a London society that had been defunct since the 1930s. As part of their cover, the mercenaries disguised as AOFB members filled their baggage with toys that were to be supposedly distributed to local orphanages. In reality, these were meant to conceal the weight of AK-47 rifles hidden under the false bottoms of each item of luggage. Hoare ensured that the toys were as bulky as possible to best suit the purpose.
The putschists' plan was to arrive on Mahé, rendezvous with the advance team, and disperse around the island to various hotels. They were to wait for several days until René would be holding a cabinet meeting in the Maison du Peuple during which time they would launch their coup. They would seize the government, the airport, the radio station, police station, the army camp at Pointe La Rue, and other strategic locations. From the radio station they would broadcast that they had taken power on behalf of Mancham. The Seychellois exiles had assured the putschists that they would have the assistance of a 400-strong "local resistance force", but none existed.
At 17:30 on 25 November 1981, Hoare and 43 mercenaries flew into Seychelles International Airport at Pointe La Rue on Mahé. All but two of the putschists had made it through customs when a security supervisor began a thorough search of the luggage of mercenary Lewis Hastie, discovering an AK-47. Realizing their cover was blown, the mercenaries produced their weapons. One security guard ran towards the office to request assistance. The guard reached the office, bolted the door, and successfully raised the alarm, beginning a six-hour gun battle at the airport. About 70 present airport staff were taken hostage by the mercenaries.
President René was in his residence when he received a phone call about the incident at the airport. He immediately put the island on alert, calling all police and militia into service and imposing a 24-hour curfew. Colonel Ogilvy Berlouis, the chief of the Defence Force, was ordered to secure the airport and prevent the mercenaries from escaping.
The number of mercenaries was unknown to the Seychellois, as was the fact of whether the attack at the airport was supposed to coincide with a seaborne invasion. They subsequently set up a roadblock on the north end of the airport and mounted an unsuccessful attack on the Pointe La Rue Barracks in which one mercenary was wounded. Seychellois forces, with two armoured vehicles, occupied the airstrip, confining the putschists to the airport's buildings. They also fired upon the chartered aircraft, disabling it. One of the armoured vehicles made its way to the terminal forecourt, but the lights were out in the building and the driver had difficulty spotting the mercenaries. The vehicle's tires were quickly shot out and it was set ablaze by a Molotov cocktail. 2nd Lieutenant David Antat, the vehicle's commander, emerged from the top and engaged the mercenaries. They surrounded the vehicle and shot Antat several times in the chest, killing him.
While the fighting was underway, Air India Flight 224 (a Boeing 707) en route from Harare to Bombay carrying 13 crew and 65 passengers closed in to land for a scheduled refueling. The mercenaries, having just seized the control tower, gave permission for it to land. Berlouis was afraid that the plane might be carrying mercenary reinforcements. He ordered trucks to block the runway while flares were fired to direct the pilot to disengage. At that point the plane was too committed to the landing to pull up and proceeded to land. Despite the lack of runway lighting, the pilot managed to maneuver the aircraft around the trucks, though it sustained superficial damage to its right wing.
Seychellois forces began firing in the direction of the Boeing, spreading worry among some of the mercenaries who saw the aircraft as their only means of escape. The putschists then boarded the flight and mercenary Peter Duffy asked Captain Umesh Saxena to take them to Rhodesia. After some negotiation, Saxena agreed to fly them to Durban, South Africa.
Five mercenaries, NIS agent Dolinchek (under the alias Anton Lubic), and one female civilian accomplice were left behind and arrested. Six of them had been part of the advance team. One mercenary had been killed and two wounded. One Seychellois soldier was killed and a police sergeant was wounded.
Hoare later authored a book on the coup attempt, entitled The Seychelles Affair.
After the event David Antat became a Seychelles national hero.