Thursday, March 27, 2008

Comoros News Bulletin: Anti-French Protests Continue; Demands Grow For Return of Bacar

Anti-French protests in Comoros

The Comoran army was backed by 1,500 African Union troops

Police have fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of demonstrators in the Comoran capital, Moroni.

Crowds chanted anti-French slogans near France's embassy after a renegade leader, Colonel Mohammed Bacar, fled to the French-run island of Mayotte.

Col Bacar fled the island of Anjouan after government troops and an African Union force invaded the island.

He has asked France for political asylum, but the Comoran government has asked France to extradite him.

The operation against Col Bacar was launched after he refused to step down as president of Anjouan, and accept the authority of the federal government after a disputed election last year.

The BBC's Jonny Hogg in Moroni says the embassy is being protected by armed Comorian police, keeping the crowd some 200m away.

Anyone who appears to be French is being targeted with one group of young men making throat slitting gestures as they march past whilst others threw stones, our reporter says.

One government official told the BBC "if France is seen to be protecting Mohamed Bacar, God knows what will happen to their representatives here ''.

Amphibious assault

The island of Mayotte is the only one of the Comoros islands to have opted to remain French when the other islands gained independence in 1975 - but it remains a source of contention with both countries claiming sovereignty.

The BBC's Jonny Hogg says Col Bacar's arrival on the island follows reports last week that he had received backing from individuals on Mayotte during the eight-month political stand-off.

The government in the Comoros has expressed disappointment that he was able to flee to Mayotte.

A government spokesman warned that if Col Bacar was not returned to face justice it could cause a diplomatic crisis.

"We have notified France that we want Colonel Mohamed Bacar and all the fugitive rebels to be extradited to Comoros," acting Foreign Affairs Minister Houmadi Abdallah told reporters.

"We reminded the French authorities ... that the international arrest warrants against them are still in effect."

On Wednesday, the Comoros authorities appointed a new transitional leader for Anjouan - the vice-president of the Comoros, Ikililou Dhoinine.

"Ikililou Dhoinine will be the political authority in Anjouan until a transitional government is set up," a government spokesman told the AFP news agency.

Mohammed Desara, the Comoran chief of defence staff, said troops were continuing to pursue elements loyal to Col Bacar and secure the island fully.

It is not known how many people died in the fighting but Mr Desara said it was certain that at least some of Col Bacar's fighters had been killed.

About 600 Comoran and AU troops landed in an amphibious assault as dawn broke on Tuesday.

Residents of the island were pictured greeting the government forces with jubilation as they patrolled the streets.

The Comoros archipelago in the Indian Ocean has had a fractious history since independence from France, experiencing more than 20 coups or attempted coups.

The three main islands of the archipelago - Grand Comore, Moheli and Anjouan - lie 300km (186 miles) off Africa's east coast, north of Madagascar.

Comoros requests Bacar handover

Bacar is said to have fled by speedboat to nearby Mayotte island, which is under French rule

The Comoros government is calling on France to hand over a deposed rebel leader for trial, but the former colonial power says it is considering granting him asylum.

A Comoros government spokesman said that Colonel Mohamed Bacar had fled by speedboat to nearby Mayotte island, which is under French rule.

The spokesman called on France to return Bacar before the government goes to the Hague-based International Criminal Court, saying on Thursday that "Mohamed Bacar must answer for his crime in a court of law".

In Paris, the ministry that manages France's overseas territories confirmed on Thursday that Bacar is now on Mayotte, 60km from Anjouan, and said France is considering his request for political asylum.

The French ministry said it had no further information that it could make public on the situation.

Transitional government

Comoros government troops, backed by African Union forces and with logistical help from France, ousted from the capital of one of the archipelago's three main islands this week.

Bacar had claimed the presidency of Anjouan island and spoken of seeking independence.

The federal government had refused to recognise Bacar's re-election as the island's president last June and vowed to remove him.

Comoros factfile:
-The Indian archipelago nation consists of three islands: Grand Comore, Moheli and Anjouan
-Each island has its own president and administrative authorities
-The Union of Comoros central government is led by President Ahmed Abdallah Sambi
-Anjouan is home to about 300,000 of the archipelago's 700,000 population
-The country has seen 19 coups or attempted coups since independence from France in 1975.

Bacar seized power in Anjouan - one of three islands in the Comoros federation - in 2001 and was confirmed in office by an election in 2002.

In 2007, the French-trained officer staged another election to confirm his re-election, but the vote was rejected as illegal by both the Comoros federal government and the AU.

However, Bacar and a force of several hundred armed police continued to control the island until Tuesday, when an estimated 1,400 AU and Comoros invaded the island to re-establish federal rule.

At least 11 people were wounded in the fighting as some Bacar loyalists took on the AU forces.

Tanzanian, Sudanese, and Comoran troops were reportedly greeted with cheers from the local population when they landed before dawn on Tuesday and there was only light resistance from Bacar's forces.

Ikililou Dhoinine, the Comoros vice-president was on Anjouan and would head a central government delegation until a transitional government could be put in place, Ali Mmadi, a cabinet minister, said.

"This transitional government will be set up by week's end," Abdourahim Said Bakar, a government spokesman, said.

The invasion of the archipelago was supported by both former colonial power France - which helped airlift AU troops to the islands - and the US.

Since independence in 1975, Comoros has had 19 coups and attempted coups.

Source: Agencies

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