Madagascar talks resume with focus on amnesty

Amnesty for fallen president Marc Ravalomanana is set to be a key issue for Madagascar’s political rivals on Friday as a third round of crisis talks got under way to resolve the island’s political deadlock.

The issue of amnesty for Ravalomanana, who fled Madagascar after violent riots led by interim leader Andry Rajoelina, had stalled talks Thursday, sources close to the mediation told Agence France-Presse.

Rajoelina and Ravalomanana are in the Mozambican capital for first-time direct talks, alongside former leaders Didier Ratsiraka and Albert Zafy with international mediators to try to end the crisis.

“I’m still confident despite the divergence of ideas,” Rajoelina told Agence France-Presse before entering the negotiating room on Friday.

“There’s an issue that is blocking all the parties, which we are going to revisit this morning. Obviously we can’t make a statement” about the amnesty for Ravalomanana, Rajoelina said.

The former leader, who is living in exile in South Africa, was convicted in absentia of “conflict of interest” in the purchase of a presidential airplane and sentenced to four years in prison in June.

An amnesty would allow his return to Madagascar to run in a presidential election at the end of a transition period.

Mediators visited each party separately on Friday morning and were scheduled to resume closed-door talks with all four parties later in the day.

Thursday’s session resolved the issue of amnesty for Ratsiraka, who has been in exile in France since a succession crisis that saw him and Ravalomanana dispute the results of the 2002 presidential election.

Ratsiraka was convicted in 2003 of misusing public funds and threatening state security. He was sentenced to 10 years of forced labour and five years in prison.

All previous attempts to find a negotiated solution to the crisis have foundered on the content of the transition charter supposed to take Madagascar to new elections and bring the country out of its current isolation.

After demonstrations that left more than 100 dead, Ravalomanana, abandoned by the army, put power in the hands of a military directorate who immediately transferred it to Rajoelina in March.

The interim leader has been ostracised by the international community which has suspended the bulk of the country’s aid. Chissano was handed the mediation role in June after African Union and United Nations efforts broke down.

The mediation team includes officials from the African Union, United Nations, the International Organisation of the Francophonie (French-speaking countries) and SADC. — AFP

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