Foiling an assassination plot in Togo.

Author:Palmer, Ronald

AFP story of December 28, 2007, datelined London: British secret services foiled a plot to assassinate the president of Togo in 1977, newly released official documents showed today ... [Prime Minister Callaghan was informed] that the United States ambassador in Togo had warned the president of the plot ...

I was the American ambassador who warned President Eyadema.

British-Togolese relations were ruptured at that time, so there was no British embassy in Lome. When the British got word in September 1977 of the involvement of some of their nationals, identified as former members of the elite Special Air Service (SAS), in a plot against Eyadema, they informed the State Department. The Brits knew I had a good relationship with Eyadema and asked if I would deliver the warning.

State's night action (NIACT) message came crashing in about 2 a.m. local time. I asked that it be translated to French. The British archive, released after 30 years and reported on by AFP, doesn't indicate that this initial September message was that I rather than Eyadema would be assassinated.

I was ready to call Eyadema at 3 a.m. The telephone operator at the military barracks where he lived got him on the line, and I asked for an immediate appointment. He demurred, suggesting a 6 a.m. appointment instead.

-I gave the translated message to him at 6 a.m. He read it with consternation showing in his face. He didn't question why I should be chosen to be murdered. He concentrated on the difficulties any cross border raid would have in reaching Lome. I replied that there were indeed obstacles, but I suggested the region between the border with Ghana and the Togolese capital be flooded with security forces.

This was Sunday morning. I was supposed to be assassinated later that day. The residence staff had Sunday off and there were no Marine Security Guards assigned to the embassy, so I thought the most useful thing I could do was to make myself a hearty breakfast.

Then, I went back to bed. I got up at noon and warmed the dish that Appolinaire, the cook, had prepared the previous day. I inspected the gates and the local guards. All was in order, and I went back to sleep. It was dark when I awakened, and I was still alive.

October came. The British gave me another warning via Washington, except now President Eyadema was to be murdered. The message came in the afternoon, and I went to see him. He had his customary bottle of the fearsome Zaire Elephant beer and insisted that I have...

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