Comoran and African forces on Wednesday battled die-hard supporters of Anjouan’s fugitive strongman as the federal authorities pledged a transition government in the Indian Ocean isle by the end of the week.
Mohamed Bacar (45) was still on the run on the second day of the military operation launched by the Comoran government and forces mandated by the African Union to remove him from power.
”The troops are involved in an operation to sweep the area around the presidential palace and secure it,” Comoran federal army spokesperson Ahmed Sidi said.
The estimated 1 400 coalition forces continued to face some resistance from Bacar loyalists near Ouani, where the presidential palace is located, an Agence France-Presse correspondent reported.
At least 11 civilians were wounded in clashes since the operation was launched, hospital sources in the capital, Mustamudu, said.
Both Bacar’s residence and office were deserted on Wednesday. Witnesses said Bacar — who faces accusations of war crimes if caught — and his guards left his residence early on Tuesday and fled into the hills.
Bacar’s re-election last year as president of Anjouan — one of three islands forming the Indian Ocean federation — has never been recognised by the international community and he has faced warnings of an invasion ever since.
The central authorities in Moroni, on the main island of Grande Comore, wasted no time in replacing Bacar.
”Vice-President Ikililou Dhoinine will be the political authority in Anjouan until a transitional government is set up on the island,” government spokesperson Abdourahim Said Bakar said.
”This transitional government will be set up by week’s end,” he said, adding that the new Cabinet was expected on Friday. Ikililou was already on his way to Mutsamudu.
There were few international reactions to the latest political developments in the coup-prone archipelago, but the invasion was supported by former colonial power France and the United States.
The Tanzanian, Sudanese, and Comoran troops were greeted with cheers from the local population when they landed before dawn on Tuesday.
They were later met by Bacar’s militiamen — with red ribbons, the colour of the Anjouan flag, knotted around the barrels of their assault rifles — but the renegade leader’s loyalists are believed to number barely 400.
Officials warned, however, that catching Bacar, a colonel who underwent military training in France, could prove difficult.
”Mohamed Bacar has not used all his forces and equipment yet. He’s a clever poker player,” warned Aboubekr Chahassou, one of Bacar’s former allies now loyal to the federal government.
Since winning independence from France in 1975, the Comoros archipelago — whose name comes from the Arabic for ”moon” — has never known constitutional stability and faced 19 coups or coup attempts.
Anjouan, the federation’s second-largest island, is a scattering of villages home to 240 000 and known mainly as the world’s leading exporter of ylang-ylang flowers and for its shady offshore banking industry.
Each of the three islands in the federation has its own leader, under a federal president.
Bacar was elected president of Anjouan in 2002. He was re-elected in June 2007 in a poll that was declared illegal by Sambi’s federal government and never recognised by the AU.
He has run the territory as a breakaway province ever since. — Sapa-AFP