Sunday, March 23, 2008

Comoros, AU Prepare to Retake Anjouan From Rebel Control

Comoros prepares Anjouan invasion

About 1,000 African Union troops are set to arrive on Moheli to support 400 Comoran soldiers

African Union troops have been arriving on the Comoros island of Moheli in preparation for a military offensive to retake the island of Anjouan.

The government of the Indian Ocean archipelago refused to recognise the re-election of Colonel Mohamed Bacar on Anjouan in June 2007 beginning a stand-off with the island.

At least 200 Sudanese and 300 Tanzanian troops have so far landed in the port town of Fomboni, the AFP news agency reported.

Senegalese troops are also expected to arrive in the next few days, while Libya has provided transport assistance for the AU-sponsored operation.

Abdul Bacar Soihir, head of the cabinet of the Comoros union, told The Associated Press news agency on Thursday: "The invasion will be very soon."

More than 1,000 African troops are expected to take part, supporting about 400 Comoran soldiers.

Yahya Abdallah, the Sudanese commander, said as he arrived with a deployment of paratroopers: "We are happy to be here... The Comoran people are our Muslim brothers and we are proud to be able to help them."

Re-election 'illegal'

Each of the Comoros federation's three islands has its own president and government institutions. Bacar has ruled Anjouan since 2002, but his re-election last year was deemed illegal by both the central authorities and the African Union (AU).

"We have waited too long to please the international community and wait for these African troops"

Comoran army lieutenant

A Comoran army lieutenant said: "We are soon going to be able to solve this matter.

"We have waited too long to please the international community and wait for these African troops."

However, regional power South Africa and former colonial rulers France said diplomacy should not be abandoned.

Pascale Andreani, a French foreign ministry spokeswoman, said: "We remain ... in support of dialogue and a peaceful solution to this crisis.

"Colonel Bacar must, for that, immediately confirm his agreement to organise elections in Anjouan in the near future and allow the African Union troops to take position at the port and airport in Anjouan to prepare to make the elections safe."

The AU is backing Ahmed Abdallah Sambi, the archipelago's president, to protect the territorial integrity of the Comoros. Bacar has said he is seeking Anjouan's independence from the union.

The archipelago has survived 19 coups or coup attempts since it acquired independence from France in 1975.

Source: Agencies

African troops prepare for Comoros offensive

FOMBONI (Comoros)--A strange atmosphere prevails in the Indian Ocean archipelago of the Comoros, where more than
1 500 African troops are training for an operation to retake the rebel island of Anjouan.

The federal government did not recognise the re-election of Anjouan leader Colonel Mohamed Bacar in June 2007 and a tense stand-off is now poised to turn into an African Union-backed invasion of the island.

But as the mainly Tanzanians and some Sudanese AU contingent held exercises ahead of an expected landing on Anjouan, there were signs that the operation might pose unexpected problems for the force.

Some of the troops did not seem accustomed to beach landings. Simulating beach landings on the small island of Fomoni, the Tanzanians inspired more laughter than awe as they clumsily get off their dinghies. Some manage to drop their rifles into the waves in the process.

"They sing better when they don’t get down," an old man watching the exercise from his little beachfront kiosk said of the Tanzanians, who sing and dance lustily throughout the exercise.

Some of their comrades meanwhile simulated a defensive tactic, gathering near a wall. But it was an uphill task for many of them, who were clearly out of breath after a short sprint.

"Luckily there is no resistance on the beach," a Comoros military official overseeing the mock drill commented drily.

"One strategically placed machine gun and they all would have been dead," he added.

The landings were staged with two civilian vessels equipped with heavy arms, and 12 rubber dinghies belonging to the national army.

Yesterday, another 50 AU troops landed in Moheli, taking the AU force beyond the 1 500-mark. About 120 Senegalese troops are expected later in the day.

The AU soldiers will support a 400-strong local force. Each of the three main islands in the Comoros, lying between Madagascar and Mozambique, has a regional president. The national government, headed by President Ahmed Abdallah Sambi, is based in Moroni, on the main island of Grand Comore. — AFP.

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