COMOROS: New polls promised as military take over Anjouan

Friday, March 28, 2008

Comoros will establish an interim government on the island of Anjouan by the end of the week, paving the way for a swift democratic election on the renegade island, a government official said on Wednesday.

The Comoros government, supported by soldiers from Tanzania and Sudan, quickly took control of Anjouan on Tuesday 25 March in a military operation aimed at toppling renegade leader, Mohamed Bacar.

“The operation went very smoothly, there were no casualties. There were no heavy confrontations, only a few pockets of resistance,” Abdourahim Said Bakar, the government spokesman told IRIN.

“We are now in full control of the island,” he said and added that all strategic points – the airport, seaport and all public buildings – had been secured.

Comoros Union army troops had apprehended a number of Bacar loyalists but had not caught up with the rebel leader yet. “If we catch him, all we want is to take him to court. He has to answer to justice,” the spokesman commented.

Following reports of human rights violations by Bacar's regime, Union president Ahmed Abdallah Sambi, who comes from Anjouan, urged the island’s population not to take the law into their own hands during a presidential address earlier this week.

“We fear there might be a spirit of revenge, we heard about torture and rape [under Bacar]. That’s why we want to secure rule of law,” the spokesman said.

The promise of democracy

The sea borne assault on Anjouan brought an end to Bacar's nearly one-year of illegal rule. The French-trained gendarme came to power through a coup in 2001 and was later voted into office in 2002.

Individual island elections on all three islands, Grand Comore, Moheli and Anjouan, in June 2007 were declared void on Anjouan by the overarching Union government, the Comoros constitutional court and international observers. Bacar, nevertheless proclaimed a landslide victory and refused to step down.

In February, frustrated by the deadlock, the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council backed the Union government's position to use military force to end the standoff. Troops were provided by the governments of Tanzania, Sudan and Senegal, with logistical support from Libya.

News agencies reported from Anjouan that cheering crowds welcomed the soldiers who landed in the early hours of Tuesday from the neighbouring island of Moheli. “People in the streets were dancing receiving the army. We can really call this a success,” said the government spokesman.

The next steps are to introduce a transitional administration and then hold fresh polls in May. "By Friday we will establish an interim government whose main goal will be to restore democracy," the spokesman added.

“It [the interim government] will make sure that Anjouan will be run properly but its main mission will be to prepare a free and legal election within three months."

Fragile system hangs in the balance

Comoros has a complex federal constitution negotiated by the AU’s predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity, with a presidency that rotates between the islands every five years. When the Union presidency moved peacefully from Grand Comore to Anjouan after Sambi won elections in 2006, there were high hopes that years of secessionism and political instability had come to an end.

But the constitution could not reconcile the question surrounding the allocation of power and resources between the island governments. Anjouan, the richest of the islands with the only deepwater port, has always been suspicious of the power concentrated in the Union Capital, on the largest island, Grand Comore.

Analysts are sceptical as to whether new elections will finally bring stability to the archipelago. "Holding the election without a proper debate will leave many wounds open and problems unsolved,” Chrysantus Ayangafac, senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, a regional think-tank.

“People from both sides should sit down first and talk through what happened, what can be done better in the future and how to overcome divisions," he added.

Source: IRIN