A military invasion to restore Union government control on the renegade Comoran island of Anjouan seems imminent: "a matter of days", authorities have warned.
"The government's position is to move in with the army and re-establish order - there is no alternative left," Abdoulrahime Said Bacar, the Union government Minister of Education and spokesman, told IRIN.
The archipelago's complex electoral system provides for a semi-autonomous government and president for each of the islands - Anjouan, Grand Comore and Moheli - with a rotating presidency for the over-arching Union government.
A standoff between the authorities on Anjouan and the other two islands in the Indian Ocean archipelago, Grande Comore and Moheli, has lingered since individual island elections were held in June 2007.
Citing irregularities and intimidation in the run-up to voting, the African Union (AU) and the Union government postponed the polls on Anjouan, but a defiant island president Mohamed Bacar printed his own ballots, held elections anyway and claimed a landslide victory of 90 percent.
Neither Mohamed Bacar nor the Comoros Union government, which is demanding a fresh poll, is prepared to compromise. Efforts by the African Union (AU) to negotiate a deal have failed to break the deadlock, as have sanctions targeting the freedoms and financial assets of Anjouan's leadership.
According to Abdoulrahime, Union government troops have been massing on the island of Moheli "as a last step - because it's closer - in the re-establishment of order by military force; it's going to happen, it's a matter of days."
The UN Resident Coordinator in the Comoros, Opia Kumah, said the government had asked the international community in the Comoros to "secure or extract" their international staff on Anjouan.
All alternatives exhausted
"We have tried to re-establish order on the island [Anjouan] in many ways to find a peaceful transition to democracy," Abdoulrahime said. "We had discussions with the international community, the AU, but the answer [from Mohamed Bacar] has always been 'no'. We even tried sanctions - a kind of soft way to put pressure - but they [Anjouan authorities] remained defiant and arrogant."
An AU communiqué last week stated that "Council decides to extend for an additional period of one month the measures against the illegal authorities of Anjouan."
Abdoulrahime said, "First 45 days of sanctions were imposed, then extended by 60, but nothing has changed. Now the AU has added another 30 days but the people are tired. The people have shown their support for the move - lots of people have already left Anjouan for Moheli and Grand Comore, about 2,500 of them."
No way back
A diplomat in Moroni, the national capital on Grande Comore, told IRIN, "There seems to be sufficient determination to go ahead with this. They [Union government] are under severe pressure from the population, who are in favour. Quite a change from a few months ago."
The highly indebted and cash-strapped Union government might also have become increasingly impatient after a recently negotiated US$30 million bailout paved the way for substantial debt cancellation. Political stability now seemed the only obstacle, the source explained.
"Unfortunately the government also seems to have lost faith in the mediation efforts by the AU and international community," he said, adding that after loudly trumpeting military action, "it would be political suicide for the government not to go ahead."
|The army is prepared, psychologically ready and has the necessary materials, I am confident|
Abdoulrahime maintained that, "The army is well prepared, psychologically ready and has the necessary materials, I am confident. We want to organise elections."
In an earlier interview with IRIN, Mohamed Bacar dismissed the threat of armed Union forces landing on Anjouan. "[National president Ahmed Abdallah Mohamed] Sambi does not know anything concerning the military, but if I had to advise him I would say that it's not the solution.
"The first time  the army came we kicked them out. The second time [May 2007] the army came we kicked them out. That means that if they try to come a third time we will kick them out." Bacar, who first came to power in a 2001 coup, leads a well-armed force of gendarmes on the island.
Back to square one
The diplomatic source commented, "If the government regains control, they need to organise elections and then, when a legitimate [Anjouan] government is in place, authorities need to sit down together and have dialogue. They need to look at the current constitution and amend it. It is clear that it is not working - it leads to too much dispute - and having four governments [a union government and one for each individual island] is far too expensive."
The current system was brokered in 2001 by the Organisation of African Unity, predecessor of the AU, in the wake of Moheli and Anjouan seceding from Grand Comore in 1997, when an attempt by the government to re-establish control over the rebellious islands by force failed.
According to Kumah, in the short term "we are concerned about the humanitarian and human rights fallout of an eventual invasion - as the UN we are closely monitoring the situation and are talking with our humanitarian colleagues."
Comoros gained independence from France in 1975 after more than a 130 years of colonial rule, but in the three decades since then it has experienced the political instability of 19 successful and attempted coups.