Four men, including ex-president of outgoing National Assembly Delfim Neves, tries to attack army headquarters overnight, says PM Patrice Trovoada of Sao Tome and Principe.

"The situation in the barracks is under control, but we must be sure that the country is completely under control," says PM Trovoada. (Reuters Archive)

The military has foiled a coup attempt in Sao Tome and Principe, the prime minister of the island nation off the western coast of Africa said in a video message.

Four men, including the former president of the outgoing National Assembly Delfim Neves, tried to attack army headquarters overnight, Prime Minister Patrice Trovoada said in a video message confirmed by the justice minister on Friday.

He said Neves was one of several people arrested.

A resident speaking to the AFP news agency anonymously by phone said she had heard "automatic and heavy weapons fire, as well as explosions, for two hours inside the army headquarters" in the nation's capital.

In the video message, authenticated and sent to AFP by the press office of Sao Tome's prime minister, Trovoada is seen sitting at a desk saying he wants to "reassure" the population and "the international community".

"There was an attempted coup d'etat which began around 00:40 am and... ended shortly after 6 am," he said, adding that "armed forces were attacked in a barracks."

"The situation in the barracks is under control, but we must be sure that the country is completely under control," Trovoada said.

Soldier taken hostage

He said a soldier had been "taken hostage" and wounded but "would be able to resume his activities in a few days".

Military personnel were deployed overnight to secure the homes of members of the government and the president, according to the resident who spoke to AFP.

She added that the city was now calm: "People are going about their normal business but schools have asked parents not to send their children."

Trovoada said: "The operation was ordered by certain personalities from the country in complicity with certain others from within the army.

"The four attackers have been arrested and have denounced certain others, including Delfim Neves and Arlecio Costa."

Costa is a former Santomean mercenary connected with South Africa's Buffalo Battalion security group, which was dismantled by Pretoria in 1993. He was also arrested and accused of leading a coup bid in Sao Tome in 2009.

But a group of accomplices who waited aboard vans outside the barracks had not been caught, Trovoada added.

The prime minister announced an inquiry was under way and said the army was "obliged to clarify the situation if there are other ramifications within the armed forces".

Political stability

A former Portuguese colony in the Gulf of Guinea, the nation of some 215,000 people is desperately poor and depends on international aid, but is also praised for its political stability and parliamentary democracy.

Neves lost his position on November 11 when the new chamber was installed following elections in September, won with an absolute majority by Trovoada's centre-right Independent Democratic Action (ADI) party.

Neves also failed in an attempt to be elected president, losing to the ADI's Carlos Vila Nova in July last year.

The ADI is one of two major parties that have vied to run the nation since independence in 1975, along with the Movement for the Liberation of Sao Tome and Principe-Social Democratic Party (MLSTP-PSD).

The ADI's electoral triumph saw ex-prime minister Trovoada return to the top job for a third time.

Source: AFP