Thursday, May 28, 2009

Madagascar Crisis Talks Collapse as President Blocks Former Leader's Return

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Madagascar's crisis talks collapse as president blocks ex-leader's return

PRESIDENT Andry Rajoelina of Madagascar has refused to allow ousted leader Marc Ravalomanana to return from exile, potentially derailing talks to end the island's political crisis.

The Reuters news agency yesterday said Rajoelina issued his edict a day after Ravalomanana accused him of being in league with former colonial power France to enslave the Malagasy population.

Cross-party political talks, closely watched by foreign powers and investors in the Indian Ocean island's mineral and hydrocarbon sectors, are set to resume later on Wednesday.

Allies of Ravalomanana - who is in exile in South Africa - said they would boycott further negotiations if discussions did not begin paving the way for his return.

"The High Transitional Authority blocks the return of the former president, Marc Ravalomanana, to the country," Rajoelina told reporters at the opening day of separate talks intended to heal deep divisions within the army.

"We will not sign any agreement allowing for his return."

Late on Tuesday, Ravalomanana accused France of supporting Madagascar's coup leaders, whom he described as bandits.

He said France was out to enslave the people of Madagascar and was acting with only its vested interests at heart. Ravalomanana's allies have suggested French involvement in Rajoelina's rise to power since the outset of the crisis, but this is the first time Ravalomanana has pointed a finger.

Ravalomanana gave up power in March under intense pressure from Rajoelina's popular movement and dissident troops. The crisis has wrecked the $390 million-a-year tourism sector.

"(The French) objective is to recolonise Madagascar and enslave the Malagasy people. Their goal is to provoke a tribal war," Ravalomanana said from South Africa.

"France does not want Madagascar to develop. It is only concerned with its own interests."

A deal to end the chaos appeared close on Friday last week when the United Nations (UN) envoy said the feuding parties had agreed to form an inclusive government. But the following day one delegation quit the table and Ravalomanana's team said they would follow suit if there was no agreement on his return. The talks were suspended until yesterday afternoon.

Ravalomanana, who maintains he is still the country's legitimate leader, had a turbulent relationship with France. He expelled the previous French ambassador, Gildas Le Lidec, last July after a few months in the post.

The new French ambassador, Jean-Marc Chataigner, arrived days after the March power-grab but has not yet been officially installed in office.

President Nicolas Sarkozy was among foreign leaders and regional blocs to accuse the former DJ of staging a coup. Several donors, including the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the United States, have suspended non-emergency aid.

Madagascar gained independence from France in 1960.

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