Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 April 2014, 13:06 GMT

Comoros: Too late to mediate

Publisher Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)
Publication Date 4 February 2008
Cite as Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), Comoros: Too late to mediate, 4 February 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47b46147c.html [accessed 16 April 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
JOHANNESBURG, 4 February 2008 (IRIN) - Anxiety is rising in the semi-autonomous island of Anjouan as the Comoros Union government continues to talk tough about a military incursion to end a lingering political stalemate.

"Everyone is fed up; everyone is tired. There is total crisis here," a teacher on Anjouan, who preferred to remain unidentified, told IRIN. Despite fears for her family's safety she added: "We better have the [Union government military] landing, then there will be freedom and peace in Anjouan."

Hostility between the authorities on Anjouan and the other two islands in the Indian Ocean archipelago, Grande Comore and Moheli, flared following individual island elections in June 2007.

Heavily outnumbered soldiers of the national army took control of Anjouan government offices in the island capital, Mutsamudu, in a bid to install an interim president before the polls, but were driven off by forces loyal to island president Mohamed Bacar. Two government troops were killed in the skirmish.

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 Mohamed Bacar printed his own ballots, held elections anyway and claimed a landslide victory.

The complex electoral system in Comoros provides for a semi-autonomous government and president for each of the islands with a rotating presidency for the over-arching Union government.

Neither Mohamed Bacar nor the Comoros Union government, which is demanding a fresh poll on Anjouan, is prepared to compromise. Efforts by the AU to negotiate a deal have failed to break the deadlock, as have sanctions targeting the freedoms and financial assets of Anjouan's leadership.

"During the past six months there were negotiations with the AU; they had to convince the Anjouan authorities, but nothing happened. We prefer to act by ourselves," said a woman who recently fled from Anjouan to Grand Comore, and who also preferred anonymity to protect her relatives still on Anjouan. "We have no other choice, we are fed up with Mohamed Bacar - every day someone is placed under arrest."

According to Kamal Ali Yahoudhoi, a journalist on Anjouan for Comoros Radio and Television who was critical of the Anjouan authorities and is currently in hiding, "The population is aware of what will happen. War is not a good thing but this is the only [way]. Before his re-election everyone felt that Mohamed Bacar was unpopular; but here people are afraid of guns, and Mohamed Bacar is the one who has guns."

Yahoudhoi, who has two children, aged two and three, has been in hiding for over two months. "In the beginning, I could see them once a week, but now not at all."

No more meetings and forget sanctions

In an address to the AU Heads of State and Government at a summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, last week, Comoros' President Ahmed Abdallah Mohamed Sambi said his government had lost faith in international efforts to mediate a resolution to the crisis and vowed to take matters into his own hands.

"I have taken it upon myself to intervene in Anjouan - the Union of Comoros does not want any more meetings or international conferences on the Anjouan crisis," Reuters news service quoted Sambi as saying on Friday. "The African Union has once more judged it useful to put in place a series of sanctions against the rebels which, alas, have not brought the expected results."

Last week the Union government threatened military invasion to restore control over the renegade island. "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 current power-sharing 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.

For decades Comoros has seen its development stunted by instability: independence from France in 1975 led to 19 attempted or successful coups in 30 years and a steady decline in the standard of living. The archipelago is burdened with US$297 million in debt, representing 63 percent of its gross domestic product.

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