The military operation to oust the rebel leader of the Comoros island of Anjouan was hailed on Friday as a success by the African Union, in dire need of a boost to its conflict-resolution record.
The first ever AU-backed plan to remove a renegade leader came after failed negotiations and was criticised by some as betraying the pan-African body’s inability to effectively tackle bigger crises such as Darfur and Somalia.
”The operation in Anjouan was extremely successful and everything seems to be under control. The population of the island is relieved by the outcome,” said El-Ghassim Wane, head of the AU Peace and Security Council’s conflict-management division.
On Tuesday, a coalition of Comoran federal troops and AU-mandated forces from Tanzania and Sudan invaded the island of Anjouan, which had been run as a breakaway state since last year by Mohamed Bacar.
The coalition defeated Bacar loyalists and the rogue colonel — whose re-election as president of Anjouan in June 2007 was deemed illegal by the AU — fled to the nearby French island of Mayotte.
”Bacar was an impediment. Every time we got close to a solution, he stood in the way,” Wane said.
”Now it’s time to focus on rebuilding the country; we will work on elections as well as addressing long-time issues that have plagued the country,” he said.
Bacar was transferred on Thursday to the French island of Reunion. The Comoran federal government has asked France to hand him over to face trial, notably on charges of torture.
”We see this operation as exemplary. Good coordination between the coalition forces led to very positive results with minimal damage,” said Jose Francisco Madeira, the AU’s representative in the Comoros.
”This experience can be a useful basis for alliances in the future,” he said. ”We were able to act very quickly with very little means.”
”For the AU, it was a good operation with clear benefits in terms of efficiency and credibility,” he added.
Critics have argued that the AU’s effort to oust Bacar despite objections by key member South Africa was an attempt to clinch an easy success at a time when other initiatives are stumbling and crises are flourishing on the continent.
Madeira admitted that the relative success of the assault on Anjouan might do little to improve its performance in war-torn Somalia and Darfur.
”The truth is that the efficiency of our action has a lot to do with the availability of funds and troops, which depends on the level of determination of our member states,” he said.
There are only 240 000 inhabitants on Anjouan and Bacar’s armed militia was believed to number barely 400 when the offensive was launched.
”The Comoros is an African country and it’s part of the responsibility of the AU to resolve the crisis. Just because it’s a small country doesn’t take anything away from the success of the AU,” said Akuei Bona Malwal, Sudan’s deputy ambassador to the AU.
Since its inception in 2002, the pan-African body has lacked the funds and political drive to take effective action on the continent’s flashpoints.
It intervened in 2004 in the strife-torn western Sudanese region of Darfur, but has relinquished leadership to the United Nations to form a joint peacekeeping force.
In Somalia, the continental body is also struggling to make an impact, having pledged 8 000 peacekeeping troops in 2006 to stabilise the restive Horn of Africa country.
But so far, only 2 000 have been deployed and the country remains mired in violence and lawlessness. — AFP