Sunday, June 21, 2009

Southern African Leaders Push For Further Talks on Madagascar Crisis

Southern African leaders push for further talks on Madagascar crisis

Leaders of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), meeting in Johannesburg, brushed aside calls for military options to resolve Madagascar's political crisis, pushing instead for further talks

AFP - Southern African leaders vowed Sunday to accelerate talks to resolve the crisis in Madagascar, brushing aside calls by ousted president Marc Ravalomanana for possible military action.

Ravalomanana was toppled three months ago following a wave of street protests that saw opposition leader Andry Rajoelina take power, with the army's blessing.

International mediation talks were suspended last week.

Ravalomanana, now living in exile in South Africa, has sought to rally African support for his return to power, even saying military options should be put on the table -- a view shared by the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, the continent's largest trading bloc.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC), however, insisted on a negotiated settlement at a special one-day summit that ran through the night Saturday.

"The extraordinary summit urged the Malagasy parties to fully cooperate with the SADC coordinated political dialogue aimed at restoring the constitutional order, peace and stability in Madagascar," said SADC executive secretary Tomaz Salomao.

The summit, which did not invite either of the Madagascar rivals and attracted only four regional leaders, urged parties to desist from violence.

The leaders tasked former Mozambique president Joaquim Chissano with co-ordinating mediation efforts, Salomao added.

Progress will be reviewed when SADC's regular summit is held in August in Kinshasha in the Democratic Republic of Congo, he added.

South African President Jacob Zuma hosted the meeting as SADC's chairman, with Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, Swaziland's King Mswati III and Tanzania's Jakaya Kikwete also attending.

The bloc announced the summit only on Thursday, two days after mediation efforts by the African Union (AU) and UN were suspended.

"What SADC has decided to do is to try to pull together all the activities that are taking place under the leadership of the mediator and his team," Zuma told reporters.

Madagascar was suspended from the bloc in March and had no official representation at the summit, but Ravolamanana held informal bilateral talks with several participants. He did not officially address the summit.

At a March special summit in Swaziland, the bloc called for the reinstatement of Ravalomanana, saying that it would "consider other options" if summit decisions were not met.

Mswati, who heads the bloc's security body, said the Swaziland decisions had been reiterated but that heads of state had decided to pursue a route of "getting everyone to talk".

Ravalomanana swept into power in 2002 on a wave of public support and backing from influential churches and won presidential elections in 2006.

But his economic programme proved disastrous, sparking a two-thirds currency devaluation in 2004, while critics accused him of failing to keep promises of electoral reforms.

The 35-year-old Rajoelina seized power with the army's blessing on March 17 to form a transitional authority.

The new authorities announced this month that Ravalomanana had been tried and sentenced in absentia to four years in prison and ordered to pay 70 million dollars in damages over the purchase of a 60-million-dollar presidential jet from the Disney group.

The large Indian Ocean island is one of the world's poorest nations and the jet came to crystalise the opposition's grievances.

Rajoelina has promised elections next year. Under the constitution, he is five years too young to run.

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