afrol News, 4 June - Madagascar's north-eastern region Diego Suarez has been the scene of the heaviest fighting since the outbreak of the crisis. Troops loyal to Antananarivo-based President Marc Ravalomanana in a surprise move had captured the regional capital, Sambava, and elite troops loyal to Tamatave-based President Didier Ratsiraka are trying to recapture the town.
Reports from Monday's fighting in Sambava are scarce. State television today informed that four person were left dead after the counterattack by pro-Ratsiraka troops. The French news agency, AFP, which quotes local hospital and military sources, however claims 12 people - seven soldiers and three civilians - were killed on Monday.
Pro-Ravalomanana forces had launched their first major military offensive to take control of parts of the four provinces held by supporters of Ratsiraka. Ravalomanana's government for a long time had threatened to attack the roadblocks put up around the landlocked province of Antananarivo. The capital and its surroundings are without access to the main harbours, depleting it of fuel and food imports and export possibilities.
The attack on Sambava was however unexpected, as the district capital does not hold a major port which could ease Antananarivo's growing humanitarian and economic crisis. The Sambava port only has a capacity of small vessels. Controlling the Antananarivo-Sambava axis, pro-Ravalomanana troops might however cut the land-based communication between Ratsiraka's "capital" Tamatave (on the east coast) and the western provinces under his control.
Ravalomanana however claims the capture of Sambava was in response to reported human rights violations by Ratsiraka supporters. Earlier reports indicate that the latter's supporters had initiated ethnic hate campaigns against the Merina people of the island's inland, including Antananarivo. Merinas had increasingly been attacked in coastal areas, Ravalomanana supporters reported.
AFP reports from Madagascar that the battle over Sambava temporarily has ceased after the rivalling troops agreed to a cease fire today.
This military campaign however breaks with the relatively peaceful history of the Malagasy crisis, now going on for almost half a year. International mediation efforts seem to have failed to end the rivalling claims to the Malagasy presidency.
Only last week, Ravalomanana and Ratsiraka were planning to return to Dakar (Senegal) to negotiate a settlement to the crisis. The second Dakar conference originally was to take place on 13-14 May, was postponed till 29-30 May, and does now seem to be cancelled in practical terms. Ravalomanana's delegation leader, Deputy Prime Minister Narisoa Rajaonarivony, however remains in Dakar and says he "remains optimistic."
The protagonists of the Dakar negotiations, Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade and Gabonese President Omar Bongo, however seem to look for other options to save the Malagasy peace process. Wade will leave for Gabon tomorrow to discuss the Malagasy crisis with Bongo, the Senegalese presidency informed today. Also the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) has now proposed a special summit on the political crisis in Madagascar.
Also the French Foreign Minister, Dominique de Villepin, is due to visit Gabon Tuesday and later Senegal, to talk with Bongo and Wade, according to a French official. The official said France totally backed the mediation process initiated by President Wade. "France is following closely the ongoing discussions conducted by President Wade and the OAU, and pursues its contacts to allow for concrete results," he noted.
Meanwhile, in Madagascar, the humanitarian crisis is worsening day by day as a result of the roadblocks put up by Ratsiraka's followers. The neighbouring French island Mayotte has already reported on the first "boat people" arriving from Madagascar. The arrivals also speak of a "terror regime" imposed by Ratsiraka's Tamatave government and mention all kind of human rights violations.
Sources: Based on Tiako i Madagasikara, press reports and afrol archives