afrol News, 6 July - As Malagasy ex-President Didier Ratsiraka has went to an apparent exile in neighbouring Seychelles, President Marc Ravalomanana is now close to take control of all Madagascar. There are reports of white flags in Tamatave (Toamasina); Ratsiraka's last stronghold.
Ex-President Ratsiraka yesterday left Tamatave together with an estimated 20 near persons, including his wife, daughter and two brothers, arriving Mahé, Seychelles, in the afternoon. Diplomats claim he has now gone into exile. Another plane, having several of members of Ratsiraka's "government" aboard, yesterday reportedly left Tamatave for Mauritius.
According to the pro-Ravalomanana daily 'Madagascar Tribune', in Madagascar, the feeling "which prevails is relief" after having heard the news of Ratsiraka's departure. Even if Ratsiraka was an old friend of the long-time Seychellois ruler, President France Albert René (whom he rescued in a 1983 coup), the Antananarivo-based newspaper reports of "a cold reception" in Mahé, which did not want to alienate the new Malagasy government. It speculated in Ratsiraka's exile in France (where "he owns a villa in Neuilly") or in another European country.
Ratsiraka's time in Madagascar definitively seemed up after all pro-Ravalomanana troops had taken all but the Tamatave provinces by this week. Mid-June, Ravalomanana's troops ended the blockage of the capital, Antananarivo, by peacefully bringing the two western provinces under its control. Ratsiraka's second stronghold, the northern province of Antsiranana, slowly was defeated during the two last weeks. Only the eastern province of Tamatave, were Ratsiraka had installed his "government", now remained under his control.
Ravalomanana was also gaining strength from battles from another front; diplomatic recognition of his government. In April, the Malagasy High Constitutional Court had declared Ravalomanana President after a recount of the December 2001 poll showed he had won outright. This proved to be the turning point as Western governments de facto started to recognise Ravalomanana by dealing with his government.
On 26 June, the US government officially stated it "considers Mr Ravalomanana Madagascar's president." Other governments confirmed they "de facto" recognised Ravalomanana's government. On 2 July cane the important de facto recognition by France - Madagascar's ex-colonial power and major trade partner. French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dominique de Villepin, on a visit to Antananarivo referred to Ravalomanana as "President of the Republic". Ratsiraka definitely had lost the diplomatic race and his assumed departure for exile three days after must be seen in that context.
Meanwhile, the question is whether pro-Ratsiraka troops have been given the order to stop resisting the Antananarivo government or if there will be a battle over Tamatave. Reports from Tamatave however indicate that the island's main port will not make resistance when pro-Ravalomanana troops are expected to arrive. White flags are posted over the city.
The BBC also reports that the Tamatave mayor - ex-President Ratsiraka's own nephew - in a radio address had told people "to go and welcome President Ravalomanana's troops at the entrance to the town." President Ravalomanana therefore seems to get control of the entire island within short and without further bloodshed.
The six-month conflict over the political control over Madagascar however has cost a heavy toll. Hundreds of people have been killed in direct confrontations between pro-Ratsiraka and pro-Ravalomanana troops. However, many thousands are believed to have lost their lives as a result of the roadblocks posted by Ratsiraka-followers, which impeded the distribution of food and medicines.
Also the Malagasy economy is turned a decade back, according to reports by UN agencies. The country's poverty rate is expected to have increased from 65 to 73 percent as a result of the turmoil and GDP is set to decrease by around 10 percent in 2002.
President Ravalomanana therefore has indicated that ex-President Ratsiraka should appear before a Malagasy court, following the latter's reluctance to recognise electoral defeat and provoking the turmoil. The 'Madagascar Tribune' equally implies that Ratsiraka now is fleeing to avoid criminal prosecution.
The Antananarivo daily says Ratsiraka's "egoistic and criminal methods" included "completely destroying the economy of the island, poking the flame of tribalism and subjecting to his goodwill the life of [Madagascar's] 15 million inhabitants." Ravalomanana's government on the other hand has given clear signals that national reconciliation is now of utmost importance - equal to the signals given by Ratsiraka's party Arena, which now recognises Ravalomanana's presidency.
Sources: Based on Malagasy govt, press reports and afrol archives