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01 Jan 2002 00:00
Soldiers loyal to Madagascar’s new President Marc Ravalomanana put former prime minister Tantely Andrianarivo under house arrest on Monday after storming his offices, killing at least two men.
The pre-dawn commando attack in the island’s highland capital made the chance of peace talks, mooted for Wednesday between the rival leaders disputing the island, extremely remote, both sides said.
Troops backing Ravalomanana laid siege to the prime minister’s offices in Antananarivo overnight, eventually killing two soldiers still loyal to longtime ruler Didier Ratsiraka, according to Prime Minister Jacques Sylla. The Ratsiraka camp said four soldiers were killed.
Sylla officially took possession of the offices after the attack.
They had been the only government buildings in the city where Ravalomanana’s supporters were still not in control.
After being encircled by troops for eight hours with his wife and two children, Andrianarivo was on Monday led off to a gendarmerie camp, where he was detained for six hours.
Asked whether Andrianarivo would be prosecuted, Sylla told journalists: “That’s not ruled out.”
Ratsiraka, who except for six years ruled Madagascar from 1975 until a hotly disputed presidential election last December, has refused to recognise Ravolamanana’s victory. Instead, as the Antananarivo mayor declared himself head of state in February two months before he was officially sworn in on the strength of a recount, Ratsiraka took his own government in the eastern port of Toamasina.
His followers imposed a crippling economic blockade of the capital of the Indian Ocean island, blowing up bridges as well as erecting barricades on the roads.
The long standoff has badly damaged the Madagascan economy and raised tensions between the people of the highlands and those of coastal provinces, while the world’s fourth largest island has also taken a battering from tropical storms.
Monday’s assault in the capital followed a warning from Ravalomanana’s defence minister, General Jules Mazimaza, that troops still loyal to Ratsiraka had until Sunday night to lift the roadblocks or be considered “mutineers or rebels.”
“What happened today makes negotiations much more difficult, though not impossible,” Ratsiraka aide Jose Andrianoelison told AFP on Monday.
“Mr. Ratsiraka still thinks there is no other way than negotiation, but ... the time isn’t right.”
Senegal’s President Abdoulaye Wade hosted a first round of peace talks in April, but each Madagascan side interpreted the deal they reached differently and a reconciliation pact was never implemented.
The Senegalese foreign ministry last week said it had messages that the two leaders had agreed to a “Dakar II” meeting from Wednesday, but Ravalomanana aide Guy Rajemison Rakotomaharo also said this was not on the cards.
“President Ravalomanana has still not announced his decision tonight because he has still not received an official invitation from Dakar in his status as the president of Madagascar,” Rakotomaharo said.
Over the weekend, the Madagascan army lifted three “small” roadblocks between Antananarivo and the port of Morondava on the west coast of the island, military sources said.
There was no resistance because local people who had backed Ratsiraka’s troops and militia forces fled, the sources added. - AFP
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