Soldier dies as local forces take over Comoros island

One soldier died as local forces ousted national troops to take control of the second largest of the Comoros islands, which have seen 19 successful or attempted coups since independence in 1975, authorities said on Friday.

Clashes began on Wednesday when police loyal to the outgoing president of Anjouan island, Mohamed Bacar, attacked national soldiers who had taken over official buildings to install an interim replacement mandated by a constitutional court.

As local forces got the upper hand to keep Bacar in power, a 25-year-old soldier was killed late on Thursday trying to flee near Mromhuli village, Information Minister Mmadi Ali said.

“When he was trying to escape by boat with about 10 other soldiers to get to Grande Comore island, they were attacked by forces loyal to the president of Anjouan island [Bacar], and the soldier was killed,” he told Reuters.

The power struggle on Anjouan has highlighted rivalries on the Indian Ocean archipelago, whose three main islands share a rotating national presidency but retain autonomy under local leadership under the terms of a 2001 peace deal.

The latest trouble was sparked when Comoros’ constitutional court said last week that Bacar’s five-year term on Anjouan had expired, and ordered him to step down ahead of June elections.

Witnesses on Anjouan told Reuters on Friday that after two days of fighting, Bacar had regained complete control of the island, and his police had confiscated the arms and vehicles of a small government army contingent of about 30 soldiers.

The shooting of previous days had subsided, but Anjouan locals were braced for it to flare at any time, as the national government considered sending reinforcements to try and remove Bacar, inhabitants said.

In a further sign of widening instability across Comoros, national military head Said Hamza was deposed this week by his own officers, apparently for supporting Bacar, officials said.

The African Union condemned the use of force on Anjouan, saying in a statement local police had “seriously threatened the unity and national sovereignty of the Comoros”.

First settled by Arab seafarers 1 000 years ago, and later a haven for pirates pillaging ships in the Indian Ocean, the rocky Comoros islands were annexed by France in 1904.

Since 1975, Comoros has become infamous for its coups and coup attempts—four aided by French mercenary Bob Denard, including one in which he and his accomplices arrived at night on inflatable boats.

With a population of 670 000, the Comoros used to rely on exports of vanilla, cloves and ylang ylang oil. But a slump in prices for these commodities has left it increasingly dependent on remittances from abroad and donor aid. - Reuters


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