Invasion of Comoran island Moheli defeated

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Comoran PM Hamada Madi Boléro

«The attackers are mercenaries trying to destabilise the government»

PM Hamada Madi Boléro

afrol News, 20 December - Yesterday's invasion by unknown forces on the Comoran minor island of Moheli reportedly has been defeated by government forces. There still is no information on who the assumed foreigners are, but the United States denies they are US troops or affiliated with the US.

The invaders of Moheli had made a statement assuring they were working with the US Army. "Our President is working with the terrorists. We are here to protect ourselves," the statement said. The statement was however transmitted through the news agency AFP in perfect French, not English.

Asked whether he could explain some reports the troops invading Moheli island yesterday were involved in the US war against terrorism, Richard Boucher, spokesman of the US State Department answered; "We don't have any information that might indicate they might be American soldiers." The Comoran government yesterday also denied rumours the troops invading Moheli were in any way connected to the US.

Mr. Boucher also said the US had little information on the events in Comoros, saying; "We don't have an embassy in the Comoros; we haven't had one since 1993. They do have a rich recent history of military coups, but I don't have any independent confirmation of what's going on there." 

Meanwhile, the Comoran government says its army has restored order on Moheli. Troops were immediately sent from the main island of Gran Comore after it was known that unknown troops had taken control of Moheli island yesterday morning. Fierce fighting, leaving five mercenaries and two civilians dead, assured government victory. Several mercenaries were however able to escape, Interior Minister Said Abdallah Cheikh Soilihi told the BBC.

The Comoran Prime Minister, Hamada Madi Boléro, yesterday told the Reuters news agency he assumed the attackers were mercenaries trying to destabilise the government. The existence of fluently French speaking, white soldiers pointed to that conclusion.

The identity of the "mercenaries", as Soilihi refers to them, is still unknown. The Ministry referred to them as French speaking. The previous "prime suspect," French mercenary Bob Denard, who earlier had led three attempted invasions of Comoros, was tracked down by the French news agency AFP, and denied all connections to the Moheli invasion.

South African Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, "unequivocally" condemning the invasion, told journalists there she was sure the Moheli incident had been an attempted coup. "We have established that they are not fighting terrorism," she said.

- It looks as if it is people who don't want the conflict there to be resolved, people who want to disrupt the referendum, Minister Dlamini-Zuma speculated about the reasons behind the invasion. She added that the regional governments were to do all in their power to organise the 23 December referendum on a new confederal Constitution as planned. 

She further said the incident had only served to strengthen the resolve of the countries of the region "to continue with their efforts to help the people of the Comoros to bring about democracy, peace and stability."

The French government equally condemned what it called a "coup attempt", saying the move was an attempt to undermine ongoing OAU efforts to promote national reconciliation. Spokesman Francois Rivasseau of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs said France was supporting these OAU efforts.

The OAU preparations for the 23 December referendum reportedly have not been affected by the Moheli incident. OAU Secretary-General Amara Essy was in the Comoran capital Moroni during the fighting on Moheli, and did not interrupt his stay. Essy confirmed the referendum was going ahead as planned.

A delegation from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) has also confirmed that they "are determined to forge ahead with their plans to visit the Comoros" to observe the referendum. 

The referendum on a new Constitution is to create a Comoran Union of the three islands of Gran Comore, Anjouan and Moheli (and at a later stage, the French administered island Mayotte). The new Union is to end the years of civil war, political instability and separatism experienced. 

The Comoros have experienced instability ever since independence from France in 1975. First, the prosperous island of Mayotte broke away and returned to French rule in distrust of the government on Gran Comore. 

In 1997, the island of Anjouan unliterary declared independence and won it in military terms. Anjouan independence has however not been recognised internationally, and a new Comoran Constitution, binding the three islands of Gran Comore, Anjouan and Moheli together in a confederation is to be voted on for Sunday 23 December - hopefully ending the Comoran civil war.

The government in Gran Comore has discredited itself by an endless row of military coups - more than 20 since independence - and economic mismanagement. President Assoumani himself came to power in a military coup in 1999 and has made no attempt to rule through democratic institutions. 

The proposed confederal Constitution has polarised the islanders. Some see in it a hope for peace and stability, while other see their nationalism threatened. To the Anjouanese nationalists, it means losing the independence they have fought for during four years, to the nationalists of Gran Comore, it means giving into separatists and losing their political control of the archipelago.

Sources: Based on SA govt., French govt., US govt., press reports and afrol archives

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