Reconciliation accord signed

Comoran leaders signed a break-through agreement at the weekend clearing the way for legislative elections in April, news reports said. The deal was facilitated by South African President Thabo Mbeki, who led an African Union (AU) delegation to the troubled Indian Ocean archipelago. Reuters reported that the agreement, signed on Saturday, regulates the powers of the main Union government and the three semi-autonomous islands. It sets up a customs authority, including international experts to solve disputes over collection and ensure fair distribution of revenues, and gives control of the local police to the island authorities, while the army will be under the command of the federal government. The accord also provides for the deployment of civilian and military observers from the AU in the period leading up to the legislative elections. Mbeki's AU delegation included South African Foreign Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, and representatives from Madagascar, Tanzania, Mauritius and Mozambique. The agreement was witnessed by the prime ministers of Mauritius, Madagascar, as well as a representative of the former colonial power, France, the head of the organisation of French-speaking countries, and the UN Secretary-General's Special envoy. Elections for the Union president and the presidents of the islands have already been held as part of a February 2001 agreement brokered by the AU - then called the Organisation of African Unity - to end secessionist agitation. The legislative polls, delayed by more than a year due to the controversy over constitutional powers, are the last step in a process of regionally-mediated national reconciliation, re-uniting the islands within a federal system.