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African Union begins assault on Comoros

©

Latest update : 2008-03-25

Sporadic heavy weapons fire and explosions were heard at dawn Tuesday in the capital of the breakaway Comoros island of Anjouan, where African Union troops launched an offensive to oust the island's renegade leader. Emmanuel Goujon reports.

African Union (AU) troops Tuesday entered the capital of the Comoros rebel island of Anjouan to oust its renegade president, sparking fierce fighting near the presidential palace and the airport.
   
AU troops engaged in heavy clashes with forces loyal to Anjouan's leader Mohamed Bacar near his residence in Ouani, north of the capital Mutsamudu.
   
 Other Tanzanian soldiers entered Mutsamudu without resistance and were cheered on by locals, witnesses said.
   
Federal Comoran forces deployed with AU forces in the fight against Bacar,  fired from a ship docked off the shore of Ouani, where heavy explosions and rifle fire could be heard, according to an AFP journalist.
   
Bacar's forces, tying red ribbons -- the colour of the Anjouan flag -- around the barrels of their assault rifles, were deployed on the road between Mutsamudu and Ouani and around the cliffs of the capital early Tuesday.
   
Several Comoran soldiers told AFP that they had landed in Ouani with Tanzanian troops in the offensive named Operation Democracy in the Comoros.
   
Comoros President Ahmed Abdallah Mohamed Sambi announced in a nationally televised address on Monday that he had given the green light to a long-threatened joint operation by Comoran and AU forces to reunify the Indian Ocean archipelago.
   
Heavy weapons fire, probably from a high calibre machinegun, began around 5:00 a.m. (0200 GMT).
   
Ships carrying the AU and Comoran troops had left the nearby island of Moheli early on Monday, and a helicopter dropped leaflets on Anjouan warning citizens that the taskforce could arrive within hours to depose Bacar.
   
"I have ordered the Comoran army and the the forces of our country's friends to bring Anjouan back under the rule of law and free her citizens," Sambi said, adding that he did so "without joy, like swallowing a bitter pill".
   
Since winning independence from France in 1975, the Comoros have never known constitutional stability and have faced 19 coups or coup attempts.
   
Bacar had been the elected president of Anjouan -- each of the three islands in the federation has its own leader, under a federal president -- since 2002.
   
He ran for re-election in June 2007 in a poll that was declared illegal by Sambi's federal government and was never recognised by the African Union. He has run the territory as a breakaway province ever since.
   
In an interview with AFP on Thursday, Bacar had taken a defiant stand.
   
"I am still determined to defend Anjouan despite my concern that people are ready to come here and fire on the Anjouanese. But I am continuing with my preparations to defend Anjouan," he said.
   
In addition to the African Union, France, the country's former colonial power, has also given the operation to oust Bacar its blessing, and helped air-lift the AU troops to the area.

Date created : 2008-03-25

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