Madagascar's feuding leaders to return to talks

Madagascar’s political rivals have agreed a return to negotiations to resolve a power struggle that has killed more than 100 people over four weeks of civil unrest, according to the United Nations special envoy to the island.

Eritrean Diplomat Haile Menkerios, who has met both President Marc Ravalomanana and opposition leader Andry Rajoelina since he arrived on Thursday, said the priority would be to restore calm in the country.

The political deadlock has led to fighting that has killed about 125 people and crippled the Indian Ocean island’s $390-million tourism industry as visitors stay clear.

Rajoelina has accused the president of turning Madagascar into a dictatorship and has established his own parallel administration.

“The parties promised to start dialogue and they remain committed to continuing that dialogue,” Menkerios told reporters on Friday.

Rajoelina, a former disc jockey turned firebrand politician, quit the crisis talks on Wednesday and said Ravalomanana had not taken the people’s grievances seriously.

Despite calls from the opposition for another anti-government protest to be held in Antananarivo’s central May 13 Plaza on Saturday, the UN envoy said Rajoelina had reconfirmed his commitment to a negotiated settlement.

Once calm is restored, it will be necessary to assess the root causes of the crisis, Menkerios said.

“What future government, or type of government, what future guarantees for the country should be put in place?” he said.

Rajoelina has galvanised popular frustrations over Ravalomanana’s failure to tackle poverty while leading a lavish lifestyle himself.

In recent years the world’s fourth largest island has welcomed foreign companies to exploit its vast oil and mineral resources including cobalt, nickel, gold and Ilmenite. However, more than 70% of the population live on less that $2 a day.

The president, a self-made millionaire, has denied ruling with increased authoritarianism and said he will fulfil his mandate, which expires in 2011.

Madagascar’s Archbishop Odon Razanakolona, who gave up his role of lead mediator last Wednesday citing a lack of progress, also promised to return to the negotiating table.

“We are talking about the future of this nation. I am prepared to fulfil my responsibilities,” said Archbishop Odon Razanakolona by Menkerios’s side.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has appointed a permanent mediator to the negotiation process.
Tiébilé Dramé, a former foreign minister of Mali, is expected to arrive in Madagascar on Wednesday, at which point Menkerios said he would leave.—Reuters

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