Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Comoros News Bulletin: Bacar Still At-large; Mbeki Regrets Military Action

Comoros renegade leader ousted, fighting continues

Thursday, March 27

MUTSAMUDU, Comoros (AFP) - - Comoran and African forces on Wednesday battled die-hard supporters of Anjouan's fugitive strongman as the federal authorities pledged a transition government in the Indian Ocean isle by the end of the week.

Mohamed Bacar, 45, was still on the run on the second day of the military operation launched by the Comoran government and forces mandated by the African Union to remove him from power.

"The troops are involved in an operation to sweep the area around the presidential palace and secure it," Comoran federal army spokesman Ahmed Sidi said.

The estimated 1,400 coalition forces continued to face some resistance from Bacar loyalists near Ouani, where the presidential palace is located, an AFP correspondent reported.

At least 11 civilians were wounded in clashes since the operation was launched, hospital sources in the capital Mustamudu said.

Both Bacar's residence and office were deserted Wednesday. Witnesses said Bacar -- who faces accusations of war crimes if caught -- and his guards left his residence early Tuesday and fled into the hills.

Bacar's re-election last year as president of Anjouan -- one of three islands forming the Indian Ocean federation -- has never been recognised by the international community and he has faced warnings of an invasion ever since.

The central authorities in Moroni, on the main island of Grande Comore, wasted no time in replacing Bacar.

"Vice President Ikililou Dhoinine will be the political authority in Anjouan until a transitional government is set up on the island," government spokesman Abdourahim Said Bakar told AFP.

"This transitional government will be set up by week's end," he said, adding that the new cabinet was expected Friday. Ikililou was already on his way to Mutsamudu.

There were few international reactions to the latest political developments in the coup-prone archipelago, but the invasion was supported by former colonial power France and the United States.

The Tanzanian, Sudanese, and Comoran troops were greeted with cheers from the local population when they landed before dawn on Tuesday.

They were later met by Bacar's militiamen -- with red ribbons, the colour of the Anjouan flag, knotted around the barrels of their assault rifles -- but the renegade leader's loyalists are believed to number barely 400.

Officials warned however that catching Bacar, a colonel who underwent military training in France, could prove difficult.

"Mohamed Bacar has not used all his forces and equipment yet. He's a clever poker player," warned Aboubekr Chahassou, one of Bacar's former allies now loyal to the federal government.

Since winning independence from France in 1975, the Comoros archipelago -- whose name comes from the Arabic for "moon"--has never known constitutional stability and faced 19 coups or coup attempts.

Anjouan, the federation's second largest island, is a scattering of villages home to 240,000 and known mainly as the world's leading exporter of ylang-ylang flowers and for its shady offshore banking industry.

Each of the three islands in the federation has its own leader, under a federal president.

Bacar was elected president of Anjouan in 2002. He was re-elected in June 2007 in a poll that was declared illegal by Sambi's federal government and was never recognised by the African Union.

He has run the territory as a breakaway province ever since.

Comoran rebel island gets leader

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

The Comoros' vice-president has been appointed head of Anjouan island as federal troops continue to search for its renegade leader Mohammed Bacar.

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

Reports from Anjouan say gunfire can still be heard following Tuesday's Africa Union-backed dawn attack.

Comoros declared Mr Bacar's election as island president in July to be illegal.

Correspondents say both Mr Bacar's residence and office were deserted on Wednesday.

Mohammed Desara, the Comoran chief of staff for defence, said troops are continuing to pursue elements loyal to Mr 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 Mr Bacar's fighters had been killed.

Government spokesman Abdourahim Said Bakar said a transitional government would be set up by the end of the week and Mr Ikililou was already on his way to Mutsamudu, the island's capital.

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 in 1975, 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.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2008/03/26 13:16:19 GMT

Mbeki Regrets Military Action Was Necessary in Comoros

Business Day (Johannesburg)
26 March 2008
By Hopewell Radebe

President Thabo Mbeki said yesterday he regretted there had been fighting on the Indian Ocean archipelago of Comoros as political measures were in place to resolve the conflict.

African Union (AU) forces backed the National Development Army as it attacked at dawn yesterday to regain control of the rebel-held Comoros island of Anjouan.

The army said the rebel force had been defeated and its leader was on the run.

"It seems to us that there was no need to deploy any military forces as the government of the Comoros had undertaken to rerun the elections in May," Mbeki said. SA had sent a message to AU president Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete of Tanzania calling for a peaceful resolution of the problem.

In Moroni, the Comoros capital, the army confirmed that rebel leader Mohamed Bacar had escaped.

Bacar is a French-trained former gendarme who seized power in 2001 and clung on to power after an illegal election last year.

The central government accuses Bacar of secessionist aspirations, although he maintains he is fighting for more autonomy rather than independence.

"Anjouan island is under total control of the army," Maj Ahmed Sidi said at a press conference on the neighbouring island of Moheli with AU representatives.

Sudanese and Tanzanian soldiers made up the AU contingent.

Sidi said no one had been killed, but this could not be confirmed.

A government spokesman said Bacar was believed to have dressed up as a woman and was trying to escape by boat.

The island nation, at the northern end of the Mozambique Channel between Madagascar and Mozambique, has survived 19 coups and coup attempts since its 1975 independence from France. A presidential official said about 400 AU troops had joined the initial assault. The bloc had sent a total force of about 1350 .

Analysts said the AU was hoping to secure a relatively easy victory in Anjouan to earn some international prestige to offset the struggles of its peacekeeping missions in Sudan and Somalia.

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