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Live from the Comoros

Latest update : 2008-03-27

The Comoros archipelago enters yet other period of trouble as government troops invade the rebel island of Anjouan. FRANCE 24's reporter Franck Berruyer is in the Comoros and writes about his experience.

Wednesday, March 26

Note:  Because of logistical difficulties during the military operation, Franck Berruyer is unable to send dispatches to his notebook. In the meantime, watch his video reports (links at right), and if you have questions about the situation in the Comoros, send them in by clicking "React" below. Franck will respond when he can.

Monday, March
24

We've been waiting for an "imminent" attack for several days now. Troops from the African Union are expected to try to retake the rebel island of Anjouan. Finally we got word that it's on, they're getting ready to board the ships.

I was on the archipelago's main island, Mohéli, with the troops, but I didn't want to miss the offensive so I got onto a "
kwasa kwasa", the local boats linking the islands, to get back to Anjouan quickly.

Before we left this morning, we saw African Union troops board two transport boats and head out in the direction of Anjouan. The armada has set sail. More troops were getting ready to board three other boats.

Now we're waiting. I'm not leaving until the offensive begins.

Here on Anjouan, it's calm.
The shops are open and the fishing boats went out to sea just like they do every other morning.

Wednesday, March 12

Together with two AFP journalists, we hop onto a "kwasa kwasa", a local fishing vessel turned into a passenger boat. Up to 40 people use them regularly to migrate illegally to Mayotte, a neighbouring French territory.

Although we sail at low tide, the waves are menacing enough. We were promised a hour-and-a-half trip, but we spend two and a half hours bouncing in the waves. We dock in Anjouan harbour under tropical rain.

I was here 20 years ago. Nothing has changed, apart from the heap of containers on the dock. The last time I was here, I gave my shoes to a boy who was asking for them.

A gendarme is waiting to show us to the presidential headquarters. The roads are just as bad as in the other islands, but at least there is electricity. Phone lines, however, are down.

We come across the president's convoy. He is sitting in an old armoured Peugeot, driving along a security pick-up truck. In a rather bewildering scene, he greets us before the interview.

The place is soaked in misery. The rain keeps pouring, the air is dark and the black beach of volcanic sand looks dreary.


Anjouan, the rebel island

Anjouan was favourite's hideout of the French mercenary Bob Denard. Everybody has a story about him, such as this minister who sold his car to Denard. Anjouan's current ruler is Colonel Bacar. In Moroni, they portray him as a quasi-dictator.

He welcomes us with assurances that he will be transparent. He wants to talk. His entourage treats us well. We are handed press releases in envelopes so heavy that we wonder if they contain money.

Bacar is a seductive, intelligent man with piercing eyes. Although an imminent landing is expected, he insists on holding his scheduled cabinet meeting.


March 8: arrival in the
Comoros

This former French colony is now very isolated. No direct flights to France, even though many Comoran expats live there, especially in Marseille.

The Comoran administration is Kafkaesque. You must renew your visa every five days. Maybe they’re still be afraid of mercenaries. Nineteen coup attempts, sometimes successful, have taken place in the last 20 years.

The good thing is that ministers are easily reached in such a small country.


Arriving in Moroni

At first sight, the country is not doing well.

Chinese workers are redoing the roads, and they have a lot of work. They have also built the main exhibition hall and Arabs from the Gulf are investing in waterfront hotels. It looks like everything needs to be rebuilt.

Electricity goes on and off and daily items are expensive for Comorans.

On the walls, some anti-French graffiti are there to remind you that a crisis is looming.

The crisis has to do with the neighbouring island of Anjouan. People from Anjouan are everywhere: at the market, in the shops. The locals dub them "the Chinese".

When you quiz them about the situation on their home island, most of them refuse to talk. Those who do vehemently criticise the regime of Anjouan president, Colonel Bacar.

At the derelict hospital, some victims tell me how they have been beaten up in Anjouan because of their opinions.

A doctor tells me that he feels more useful working here than taking up a job in Paris. On the walls, posters remind me that malaria and cholera are still deadly threats in Anjouan.


Mohéli island

This island is promoted as a paradise for eco-tourism and boasts turtles and bats. Amenities are very basic and mosquitoes feed on the blood of white visitors.

But there is no time for tourism.

The Comoran army has been preparing its operation for two months, but now looks keen to go faster. The officers have settled in a hotel by the beach. In the afternoon, everyone goes to sleep. The heat is unbearable: every movement drenches you with sweat.

The locals give strange looks to white people on motorbikes. We must truly look like mercenaries.

The Comoran army puts up a show for us, complete with exercises and a parade. The military have hired old rusty ship to attack Anjouan. All they are waiting for is African Union reinforcements.

Date created : 2008-03-27

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