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13 Mar 2008 10:13
South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki said he opposed a threatened African Union-backed assault by the Comoros archipelago’s troops against the rebel island of Anjouan, saying it should be given time for a poll.
Hundreds of federal troops have amassed on nearby Moheli island vowing an imminent assault on hilly, wooded Anjouan after its French-trained former gendarme leader, Mohamed Bacar, defied the national government with an illegal election last year.
“They are quite ready to have those elections as early as May,” Mbeki said late on Wednesday, adding that Bacar had informed him in a letter to the South African Foreign Ministry that he was prepared to hold a new, legitimate vote.
“I think [that] is really the way that we should go. I don’t think there is any need to do anything apart or additional to that,” he said at the end of a two-day visit to Mauritius.
The Indian Ocean archipelago’s national government has repeatedly said a military solution is the only option left.
AU officials have imposed economic sanctions on tiny Anjouan and repeated the threats of an assault.
The pan-African body may be hoping to score a relatively easy victory against Anjouan to regain some credibility after its peacekeepers failed to stem conflicts in Sudan’s Darfur region and Somalia.
But Mbeki’s South Africa is one of the continent’s biggest financial and military contributors to the AU.
A batch of 500 Tanzanian troops began arriving this week and the Comorian military said it made a brief incursion onto Anjouan on Tuesday, capturing three militia.
Sudan and Senegal have offered another 750 troops, while Libya has offered logistics for military action that the United States has also said it would support.
After suffering about 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.
Government officials say Bacar wants to separate from Comoros, but the rebel leader says he wants more autonomy for Anjouan rather than independence.
Lying off Africa’s east coast, the islands—which grow ylang-ylang, vanilla and cloves—were first settled by Arab seafarers 1 000 years ago, then later became a pirate haven.
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