"Double crisis" unresolved

The military leader of the Comoro islands, officially isolated by the international community, has formed a new government to include representatives from several political parties ahead of planned elections next year. Colonel Azaly Assoumani, who took power in a bloodless coup in April, formed a new 12-member government on Tuesday to include leaders from 22 out of 33 parties on the archipelago that have signed a pact in support of the military authorities. The government is led by newly appointed Prime Minister, Bianrifi Tarmidi, who coordinated the now dissolved "Committee of State" through which Azaly had ruled. However, according to one diplomat on the main island of Grande Comore, the archipelago's biggest political parties remain opposed to the new government and have distanced themselves from Azaly's economic reform programmes, which have targeted corruption among the business elite and politicians. Despite the lack of international recognition, the military's reforms aimed at streamlining the public sector and repaying arrears to international financial institutions, have won quiet applause from the donors. "The reforms are well received by the international community, and it seems, the people," the diplomat told IRIN. "The old political order have decided they will do whatever they can to come back to power, but the military seems to be in control and may have some interesting ideas on how to run things." But "the double crisis" faced in the Comoros - apart from the issue of the government's legitimacy - is the unresolved question over the independence demands of the island of Anjouan. The hardline separatist Anjouanese leadership has refused to sign an Organisation of African Unity (OAU)-mediated agreement reached in April in Antananarivo, Madagascar. The deal provides for greater autonomy for the two smaller islands of Anjouan and Moheli within a federal structure. South Africa has been mandated by the OAU to coordinate a diplomatic initiative by regional countries to break the impasse. "South Africa is the key," the diplomat said. "If the Anjouanese realise that countries of the region are serious about Comoro integrity, they will sign." However, a South African foreign affairs official downplayed Pretoria's influence in the crisis. He told IRIN on Wednesday that there were unconfirmed reports that the Anjouan leadership has decided to put the issue of the island's status to a referendum. "The root of the problem is that the Anjouanese believe they got nothing out of the (Comoros) union - they were always last in line when it came to development or aid. They think they have nothing to lose from independence, and under a different constitutional framework they could get more aid from the donors," the official said. There have also been reports that French business interests have pledged investments to a breakaway Anjouan. "We think the key to the problem is signing the Antananarivo accord by the separatists," he added. "It is not perfect, not everyone is happy with it, but it's the golden middle way."