Madagascar reacts swiftly to mutiny attempt

A gun battle broke out in Madagascar’s capital on Thursday after a mutiny by members of the security forces, leaving two soldiers dead and several civilians wounded, the prime minister said.

By early evening, army and gendarmerie forces had reclaimed control of the base in central Antananarivo that had been held by 30-odd mutineers from the gendarmerie’s elite intervention unit (FIGN).

“There are two dead,” Prime Minister Camille Vital told a press conference on Thursday evening. He said the victims were a member of the FIGN and a loyalist solider.

“Faced with the mutiny of some members of the FIGN, driven by religious elements in their midst, the armed forces were obliged to launch an assault on the gendarmerie camp,” Vital added.

He said the situation was under control and that steps had been taken to ensure security in the capital.

The clash erupted as political players on the Indian Ocean island nation struggled to find a way out of a crisis sparked by a March 2009 coup.

The vast island state has been unstable since the putsch led by Andry Rajoelina, a 35-year-old former disc jockey who ousted President Marc Ravalomanana with the army’s support.

According to security sources, the main grievance of the mutineers is related to money paid to their former boss by the ousted Ravalomanana early last year, when Rajoelina was leading street protests against his regime.

Colonel Richard Ravalomanana, who led the military operation against the protesting officers, said earlier that five people were wounded including three civilians.

Hospital sources earlier said six people sustained gunshot wounds.

An Agence-France Presse reporter near the scene of the shooting earlier saw one civilian with a bullet wound to the leg being evacuated by the Red Cross.

Ravalomanana, who is not related to the ousted president, said the assault was launched in self-defence and was over within hours.

“We never meant to attack but they started opening fire on us,” he said. “There are no prisoners. The other [mutineers] fled and the regular forces now occupy the FIGN.”

The army commander said he estimated the total number of rebel FIGN members was no more than 30.

The rebel security forces set up mobile checkpoints around their base at Fort Duchesne on Wednesday.

The mutineers accuse their former boss General Bruno Razafindrakoto of keeping for himself more than $200 000 paid to him by former president Ravalomanana.

Another political ingredient in Thursday’s skirmish was that the rebel FIGN apparently intended to protect a planned demonstration by a pro-Ravalomanana movement.

Since taking power, Rajoelina has failed to secure international backing and left the country in a state of institutional limbo.

International mediation efforts involving Ravalomanana and two other former presidents have so far failed.

The crisis has left Rajoelina increasingly isolated both internationally and at home, with the army increasingly reluctant to back him. — Sapa-AFP

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