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COMOROS: Military action irreversible

Dar es Salaam, 14 March 2008 (IRIN) - African Union (AU) efforts to end the political dispute between the Comoros government and Anjouan island's renegade leader Mohamed Bacar have failed, officials said, despite an offer for more talks to resolve the nine month stand-off.

"We have exhausted all available opportunities to end the political dispute in the Comoros," Tanzanian Foreign Minister Bernard Membe told a news briefing in Tanzania's commercial capital, Dar es Salaam on 14 March.

South African President Thabo Mbeki reportedly told an international news agency on 12 March at the end of two day visit to the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius that Bacar had offered to hold fresh elections and "this is really the way that we should go. I don't think there is any need to do anything apart or additional to that."

The crisis on the Indian Ocean island state has been simmering since June 2007, when national elections were held. The Union government and the AU postponed the poll on Anjouan, citing irregularities and intimidation in the run-up to voting, but Anjouan strongman Mohamed Bacar printed his own ballot papers, held an election and claimed a landslide victory.

Membe, flanked by Tanzania's defence minister Hussein Mwinyi, said a multi-national military force from Tanzania, Senegal, Libya and Sudan had gathered on the nearby island of Moheli, in support of the Union government of Comoros' army and was on the verge of a military strike to re-take Anjouan.

He said there were many opportunities for a negotiated settlement, but Bacar, who came to power in a 2001 coup, squandered all those chances. "He is a liar," Membe said in reaction to Bacar's offer for more talks.

The volatile islands

The electoral crisis has paralysed the Union government of Comoros and brought back the political volatility that has been a hallmark of governance since the islands achieved independence from France in 1975; the tiny archipelago has weathered 19 successful and attempted coups to date since independence.

A 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.

Bacar, who commands a force of about 500 heavily armed and French trained gendarmes has run Anjouan as a separate entity since achieving power by a coup and subsequently declared himself the island's elected president following the disputed poll in June 2007.

Membe said the aim of the military operation would be to arrest Bacar and disarm and disband his para-military forces. He said the Union government would then put Bacar on trial.

The military operation would, according to Membe, inflict minimum damage to both property and life.

"In fact there will be no damage at all because we don't anticipate any resistance from the civilians. We also know the capacity of the militia and their weapons," Membe said and claimed only 300, out of an estimated 500 gendarmes, remained loyal to Bacar.

The envisaged military force of about 2,000, comprised 750 Tazanian troops, 600 Sudanese soldiers and 150 Senegalese soldiers, with the remainder of the forces from the Comoros and Libya. The military action also had the backing of Comoros former colonial power, France and the United States .

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Theme (s): Governance,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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