COMOROS: No quick fix after military strike

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The end of Mohamed Bacar's rebel rule in Anjouan could boost political stability on the Comoros archipelago, but the humanitarian problems will take longer to fix.

Backed by troops from African Union member states, the Comoros government took control of Anjouan this week in a military strike to topple the renegade leader, who had defied demands to re-run local elections held in June, condemned as fraudulent.

Hundreds of Anjouanese fled the island while Bacar was in power, or just before the government’s well-flagged assault. Most went to Grand Comore, the main island, or Moheli, 70-km to the west: many now want to return.

"All of us want to go back. But nobody can afford it," Bastoine Soulaimane, representing several hundred Anjouanese on Moheli told IRIN. The UN Resident Coordinator in the Comoros, Opia Kumah, said Anjouanese had sold everything to flee the Indian Ocean island and would have to sell everything again in order to return.

"We have problems with food, health, security and everything you can think of among these people," Kumah said. "These people have nothing."
With a population of 700,000, Comoros is one of the poorest and most indebted nations in the world. Incomes have been shrinking in real terms for the past 20 years, down to an average US$633 per capita in 2004.

Kumah said he has appealed for US$1 million in aid to help with the most urgent needs on the island. Half of the sum will come from the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), which provides rapid response grants.

A small UN team was also expected to arrive in Anjouan in the next few days to help with the humanitarian response. "As soon as we have the green light for security we will go there. It will be easier for us to assess the situation and see the real impact of the assault."

The Union government has said it would have a transitional administration in place in Anjouan by Monday, and elections would be run three months later. But a key challenge for the transitional period would be to find a leader widely accepted on the island following seven years of Bacar’s authoritarian rule.

Meanwhile, the fate of the fugitive ex-leader is unclear. The coalition troops failed to catch Bacar, who fled to the nearby French-run island of Mayotte. Deeply suspicious that their former colonial power helped Bacar escape, many Comorians have been protesting in the streets.

While the Comoros government has reportedly asked for Bacar’s extradition, the French have yet to announce what they will do with the former gendarme colonel.