Soldiers oust separatist leader in Anjouan

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Comoros Online / IRIN / afrol News, 9 August - The army on the break-away island of Anjouan have deposed colonel Said Abeid, who this year entered into a reconciliation agreement with the federal authorities in Comoros, diplomatic sources in the Comoros capital of Moroni told IRIN on Thursday. 

Sources said soldiers had encircled the presidency and arrested Abeid. "The situation in Anjouan is however reported to be calm and people are going about their business as usual," a diplomatic source said. 

Reports from Anjouan indicate that a military junta led by Commandant Halidi, the commander of the Gendarmerie, was now running the affairs of the island. Reports added that the move coincided with the arrival on the island the past few weeks of a number of Anjouanais from the diaspora who were planning to query the "true intentions" of Abeid in the reconciliation process.

- The gendarmerie have taken over this afternoon (Thursday), an official from the Organisation for African Unity (OAU) was quoted in news reports as saying. 

The coup occurred as many of Anjouan's political leaders were on the archipelago's third island, Moheli, to look at a draft constitution formulated as part of plans to redefine relations between the three islands, which make up the Comoros federation.

An analyst told IRIN that it was not yet clear what impact this latest development would have on the reconciliation process. "At this stage the new direction that the military of Anjouan want to take has not yet been made public," the analyst said. 

- It is also hinted that civilians may be involved but names have not been disclosed yet, he noted. "Depending on who these are, it could be a new turn and perhaps a serious blow to the reconciliation process. It could also help speed it up."

In August 1997, the Comoros was plunged into a political crisis when Anjouan broke away demanding independence from its sister islands of the Grande Comore. Abeid seized power in 1999, two years after Anjouan unilaterally broke away from the Comoros federation, and until this year resisted attempts to find a diplomatic solution pushed by OAU sanctions. 

While Abeid enjoyed great popularity on Anjouan between 1997 and 2000, his increasing dictatorial leadership and his negotiations with the OAU have caused enhanced intraquility on the island during this year. The Anjouanese opposition to president Abeid took off when he in October 2000 dissolved the local Parliament, a decision his own advisers found "particularly regrettable". Abeid's mandate as transition president expired at year's end, but Abeid has not been willing to organise elections on the island.

On 4 February 2001, OAU mediator Jose Madeira stated on Radio France International that "the Anjouanese are favourable to a Comoran federation" after having had talks with Abeid. This immediately provoked demonstrations on Anjouan, including an occupation of the Ouani airport on 5 and 6 February, which succeeded in preventing the arrival of mediator Madeira to Anjouan. The soldiers had to use their weapons and fire to disperse the demonstrators, and at least one civilian was killed.

Anjouan has experienced relative tranquility since the February protests. Abeid was however more and more isolated from the political groups of the islands, many activists fleeing to neighbouring islands. It is believed that a majority on Anjouan still wishes independence and have been sceptical to Abeid's negotiations with the Moroni government. Following Abeid's dictatorial governance, many Anjouanese however seem to have lost faith in independence.

Sources: Based on an IRIN article and afrol archives

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