Africa, Headlines

COMORO ISLANDS: Tension Rising in the Indian Ocean Archipelago

Moyiga Nduru

NAIROBI, Sep 17 1997 (IPS) - Tension is rising in the tiny Indian Ocean island of Anjouan where seperatist rebels have urged residents to prepare for a new mercenary-backed attack by the federal government of President Mohamed Taki Abdulkarim in the Grande- Comore.

Reports say defiant Anjouan authorities have closed off the island’s air space and sea frontiers to ward off a looming threat of a second assault by federal troops.

Federal troops, estimated at about 300, invaded the island on Sep. 4 in a bid to end the secession there, but were beaten back by Anjouan fighters, according to unconfirmed reports from the island.

Travellers say separatists in Anjouan, part of the Comoro Islands, are preparing for a bloody confrontation with the government troops. The Comoro Islands is an archipelago of four small islands — Grande-Comore, Anjouan, Moheli and Mayotte.

“There are growing fears in Anjouan that President Taki has hired Russian mercenaries for the second invasion of their island. And, the people of Anjouan appear ready to face that threat,” said a businessman just back from the Comoro Islands.

The man, who declined to be named, told IPS on Wednesday that the rumour of a possible invasion was sparked by the arrival on Sep. 13 in Moroni (the capital of Grande-Comore) of 40 Russian nationals, believed by Anjouan authorities as part of Taki’s plan to put down the rebellion on the island.

Anjouan and the sister island of Moheli declared unilateral independence from the Federal Islamic Republic of the Comoros in August, prefering to return to French rule.

Paris has, however, ruled out bringing the islands once more under French administration.

Charles Josselin, junior minister for international cooperation, told journalists in Paris on Tuesday that France would not involve itself in the debate over the independence of Anjouan and Moheli. “I have urged President Mohamed Taki to resort to dialogue other than war,” he said.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Yves Doutriaux has also repeatedly said that Paris would only back efforts by the 54- nation Organisation of African Unity (OAU) to find a peaceful solution to the crisis in the Comoros.

OAU special envoy Pierre Yere had urged the government of Taki to refrain from military action in the rebellious islands of Anjouan and Moheli.

To resolve the crisis, the OAU has been insisting for face-to- face talks between Comoros’ belligerents. But Yere, who is Cote d’Ivoire’s ambassador to Ethiopia, said early this month that the Taki regime had asked the OAU to postpone until October its all- party conference on the crisis. The talks at OAU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, were scheduled for Sept. 10-17.

OAU secretary-general Salim Ahmed Salim, who appointed Yere to sort out the crisis, has warned that the secessionist movement in Anjouan and Moheli represents a dangerous precedent for the Indian Ocean archipelago’s neighbours.

Three of the four Comoro Islands, with a combined population of some 540,000, won independence from France in 1975. The fourth, Mayotte, had opted in a 1974 referendum to remain under French administration.

Twenty-two years on, some of the residents of Anjouan and Moheni, which account for half the federation’s population, are now changing their minds, arguing that independence brought only poverty, civil strife and numerous coups.

But the pan-African body has refused to buy the idea, reiterating “the unequivocal support of the OAU for the unity, territorial integrity and cohesion” of the Comoran archipelago.

The rebels appear to be attracted by the higher standard of living, elaborate social security system and the regular payment of civil servants enjoyed by the people of Mayotte.

The Comoro Islands had been rocked for weeks by a series of labour disputes over non-payment of salaries. Last month, the governor of Grande Comore, Aboubacar Boina, banned all demonstrations by political groups and trade unions until the secessionist trouble in Anjouan and Moheli was resolved.

Wage arrears are reported to be standing at 12 months, but President Taki said he would address the issue only after resolving the crisis on the two rebel islands.

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  • fds

    I guess anti-Caucasian racism was just a tool by local power brokers to eject the French settlers and grab power.

    Too late, Cameroons, you had your chance to live in first-world splendor. (Notice the impotent pan-African group refusing the locals to reintegrate with France.) It appears decolonialism was just a passe fad, like Marxism Leninism.

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