France considers asylum for renegade Comoran leader

France is considering giving asylum to a renegade Comoran leader who fled an invasion by Comoran and African Union troops, a minister said on Thursday as demonstrations added to tensions over the future of Mohamed Bacar.

French security forces guarded the main airport on the French Indian Ocean territory of Mayotte where Bacar was taken on Thursday. He escaped to Mayotte after the seaborne invasion of his Anjouan stronghold on Tuesday.

Comoran exiles staged angry demonstrations against his presence there.

Comoros security forces used tear gas to disperse 1 000 people trying to march on the French embassy in Moroni, capital of the island chain, demanding that France send Bacar back to face trial.

The Comoran federal government won international backing for its military action to end Bacar’s disputed rule on Anjouan, the third biggest island in the archipelago off eastern Africa.

Mayotte is a fourth island in the chain, which opted to remain French when the Comoros went independent in 1975. Bacar, and 23 of his soldiers and associates, arrived there Wednesday and sought refuge with a brother, local government sources said.

French Secretary of State for Overseas Territories Yves Jego said France was studying his request for political asylum.

Speaking on Reunion island, Jego said an answer would be given “as fast as possible, I hope”.

Mayotte local government sources said Bacar could be moved to Reunion and Mayotte’s Pamandzi airport was being protected by French security forces. Several exiles from Anjouan were around the airport.

Several Anjouan demonstrators also gathered outside the main police station near the airport and authorities closed the road from the station to the airport and halted other traffic.

Demonstrators hurled stones at cars belonging to French nationals and two were injured, witnesses said. Several Anjouan exiles said they were outraged at the protection given to Bacar, who faces accusations of torturing his opponents.

In Moroni, Comoran Defence Minister Mohamed Bacar Dossar asked France to hand over Bacar to face trial in the Comoros.

Amid angry anti-French demonstrations in the Comoros capital, a French man who heads a primary school in Moroni was attacked by a mob as he headed to work, a French diplomatic source said. He was not seriously wounded.

“We understand the disappointment of our Comoran brothers. We will do everything we can to ensure that Bacar and his accomplices are brought back and sent to court in the Comoros,” Dossar said.

France and the Comoros have no extradition agreement, however.

The Comoran and African Union forces battled die-hard supporters of Bacar on Wednesday as the central government vowed to set up an interim administration on Anjouan this week.

At least 11 civilians have been wounded in clashes since the operation was launched, hospital sources in the Anjouan capital, Mutsamudu, said.

Comoran Vice-President Ikililou Dhoinine was on Anjouan running a temporary administration until a transitional government could be set up, Cabinet minister Ali Mmadi said.

France backed the invasion by 1 400 Comoran and African Union troops by lending the ships used to take them to Anjouan at dawn on Tuesday. — AFP

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