Assoumani's presence vital to success of Paris meeting

Grand Comore President Abdou Soule Elbak on Monday said an upcoming meeting in Paris between all Comorian leaders would be an "ideal opportunity" to resolve an ongoing row over political authority. "We are hoping that we can achieve some clarity on the current confusion prevailing on the island. This is an ideal opportunity to draw international attention to the political tensions that exist. We have reached a point where it is necessary to have external mediation to assess whether the constitution is being violated," Elbak told IRIN. A power struggle has ensued between Union President Azali Assoumani and Elbak over control of key government ministries since last year's devolution process which saw the islands - Moheli, Anjouan and Grande Comore - govern most of their own affairs with their own presidents. Assoumani's Union government in the capital, Moroni, controls defence, foreign affairs and economic policy. But while local newspapers at the weekend reported that the presidents of the three semi-autonomous islands have all accepted the invitation to attend the meeting, it was still unclear if Assoumani would be present. "I would think that it would be in the best interest of the country if he [Assoumani] does attend. This is if he considers that the stability of the island is at stake," Elbak said. The La Gazette newspaper suggested that Assoumani would not attend the Paris meeting, fearing that "France may use the occasion to find a lasting solution to the crisis". But one Comorian diplomat dismissed such speculation. "President Assoumani is keen to negotiate a way out of this predicament. He is aware that by not attending the meeting he would be sending a clear signal that he is not interested in political stability," Bacar Salim, Comoros chargé d'affaires in South Africa, told IRIN. Salim confirmed reports that there were plans to hold a follow-up meeting of the presidents in Johannesburg, South Africa, although a date had yet to be set.