Monday, March 24, 2008 - 09:30AFP News Briefs List
AU troops move towards rebel Comoros island by Emmanuel Goujon
Two ships with African Union troops mandated to help the federal government of the Comoros archipelago retake the rebel island of Anjouan left port overnight, port sources said on Monday.
Another three ships carrying mostly Tanzanian and Sudanese soldiers were preparing to steam Monday morning from Fomboni, capital of the island of Moheli.
A group of 1,500 African Union troops has been based there preparing for the operation to retake Anjouan. The commanding officers however refused to divulge their destination.
The federal government of the Indian Ocean archipelago of the Comoros did not recognise the re-election of Anjouan leader Colonel Mohamed Bacar in June 2007, and the operation to remove him is being supported by the African Union.
The African Union troops practised beach landings Sunday for the operation codenamed "Democracy in Comoros."
The African forces, who are due to back up some 400 local troops in the planned manoeuvre, had been stationed in the small island of Moheli -- the closest Comoran territory to Anjouan.
In an interview with AFP last Thursday, Bacar veered between a defiant and conciliatory tone.
"I am still determined to defend Anjouan despite my concern that people are ready to come here and fire on the Anjouanese. But I am continuing with my preparations to defend Anjouan," he said.
The Comoros army and police force has a total strength of 1,060, of whom 400 are currently stationed in Moheli -- an hour by sea from Anjouan.
Bacar only has some 300 troops at hand.
Comoran central authorities meanwhile appeared to be in no mood to give Bacar a second chance.
"Colonel Bacar will be arrested if he does not flee and will face Comoran courts for treason, usurpation of power, torture and war crimes, as documented by complaints which Anjouanese victims have filed," Comoran Vice President Idi Nadhoim said.
Several witnesses have told AFP of cases of torture on Anjouan under Bacar's rule.
"After the operation on Anjouan and the restoration of constitutional order, there will be a transitional government, which will have to swiftly organise elections to be held in May," Nadhoim added.
Tanzanian Foreign Minister Bernard Membe said the planned joint operation would comprise about 1,800 soldiers.
The fractious archipelago has survived 19 coups or coup attempts since it acquired independence from France in 1975.
Tanzanian African Union troops arrive onto a beach during military training exercises in Fomboni, the capital of Comoros island of Moheli on March 22. Two ships with African Union troops mandated to help the federal government of the Comoros archipelago retake the rebel island of Anjouan left port overnight.
© 2007 AFP Jose Cendon