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Comoros says French helicopter crashes on Anjouan

Wed 19 Mar 2008, 11:36 GMT
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By Ahmed Ali Amir

MORONI (Reuters) - A French police helicopter crashed on Comoros' renegade island of Anjouan during an unauthorised flight on Wednesday, officials in Comoros said, as tensions grew ahead of a military assault.

No-one was hurt in the crash, officials said.

Mohamed Bacar Dossar, director of the president's cabinet in charge of defence, said the French embassy in Moroni told them the aircraft from the French-administered island of Mayotte went down near Sima village on Anjouan after technical problems.

"According to the French authorities, there were no injuries or deaths," Dossar said, adding the helicopter was owned by France's Mayotte-based air and border police force.

Tensions are growing on Anjouan ahead of a planned military assault by African Union troops and the federal government to try to wrestle back control of the island.

The coup-prone archipelago's top military officer said it was not clear who was on board the aircraft. A second military source said it was carrying a pilot and two French policemen.

"We don't know what it was doing. You can imagine the rumours," Lieutenant Colonel Salimou Mohamed Amiri said.

"The government of Comoros did not allow them to come. They were not authorised ... The French said they sent other air and naval assets to pick up the crew."

Many Comoros residents say they are deeply suspicious of the French, accusing them of meddling in their internal affairs.

French officials in Mayotte could not immediately be reached for comment. After suffering some 20 coups or coup attempts since independence from France in 1975, Comoros is trying to shrug off a history of instability and inter-island bickering.

Hundreds of AU troops have been arriving in the archipelago this month to help the federal authorities oust Anjouan's self-declared leader Mohamed Bacar.

Analysts say the AU may be hoping to score an easy victory in Anjouan and win some prestige to offset struggling peacekeeping missions in Sudan and Somalia.

(Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing Janet Lawrence)

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