Comoros demanded on Thursday that France hand over a rebel leader wanted by the Indian Ocean archipelago for crimes against humanity and troops fired teargas to stop protests against the former colonial power.
Paris confirmed late on Wednesday that Mohamed Bacar, the self-declared leader of Anjouan island, had fled to nearby French-run Mayotte after being ousted by African Union and Comorian forces in a lightning offensive.
France, along with the United States, backed the operation to topple Bacar, a French-trained former gendarme who seized power in 2001 and clung on with an illegal election last year in Anjouan — one of Comoros’ three islands.
Many Anjouan residents accuse Bacar of ruling through the threat of violence and suppressing dissent with torture and intimidation.
”We have notified France that we want Colonel Mohamed Bacar and all the fugitive rebels to be extradited to Comoros,” acting Foreign Minister Houmadi Abdallah told reporters.
”We reminded the French authorities … that the international arrest warrants against them are still in effect.”
The junior minister for France’s Overseas Territories, Yves Jego, said Bacar was under ”police supervision” in Mayotte and had asked for asylum.
”The conditions of his placement under house arrest are being examined so that we can give him the answer he wants,” Jego told a news conference on the French island of Reunion.
He declined to comment on whether Bacar would be transferred to Reunion because of protests in Mayotte.
France Info Radio said anti-Bacar demonstrators took over the pier at the main town Mamoudzou.
”Everyone is angry’
In Moroni, capital of the biggest Comorian island, joint AU-Comorian forces fired teargas to disperse crowds which gathered waving banners denouncing ”enemy France”.
With a history of assassinations, mercenary invasions and about 20 coups or attempted rebellions since independence from France in 1975, Comoros is notorious for its political instability — which many locals blame on French meddling.
Abdouroihamane Soidik, an Anjouanais government worker, was among those accusing Paris of helping Bacar (45) escape.
”We heard that a speed boat took him with his men. In Anjouan, there are no speed boats,” Soidik said. ”The speed boats in the area are French, which monitor illegal immigrants who want to get to Mayotte.”
Peaceful demonstrations also took place outside the central bank, which employs some French workers, and the French Embassy, where protesters called for the ambassador to be expelled.
One French national said the French school in Moroni was closed by protests, stranding several teachers and students.
Islanders are bitter that French soldier-of-fortune Bob Denard, who was involved in four coups and attempted coups in Comoros, did not face justice on the islands before his death.
Denard claimed to enjoy covert French support for operations meant to retain France’s influence in its former colonies.
Despite turbulent ties between the two nations, France remains Comoros’ major trading partner. – Reuters