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Authorities order civilians to evacuate army mutineers' camp

Civilians have been ordered away from a military camp where a group of soldiers who declared a coup on Wednesday are holed up, while the government attempts to negotiate an end to the standoff.


AFP - Madagascan authorities ordered civilians Friday to evacuate areas around a military camp outside the capital where rebel soldiers are holed up and pressed on with negotiations to end the standoff.

Army spokesman Philibert Ratovonirina called on the people and the military to remain calm as they sought a way out of the latest crisis to hit the troubled Indian Ocean island.

"It is a delicate situation. Negotiations are continuing. We are trying to negotiate so that these soldiers rescind their decision and give themselves up to authorities," Ratovonirina told reporters.

"The use of force is not a solution to this problem."

Around 20 officers who declared a coup Wednesday but failed to win support from the rest of the military were inside the camp around 15 kilometres (nine miles) from the city centre near the international airport.

Army chief Andre Ndriarijaona held talks with the dissident soldiers after the defence ministry ordered civilians to leave the area around Ivato camp.

"We ask families living in the Ivato camp and residents of the surrounding area to temporarily leave the area for a safer place," the defence ministry said in a statement broadcast on national radio and television.

Shortly after the army chief's departure from the camp, security forces on two vehicles fired teargas to disperse a curious crowd and arrested one person, an AFP correspondent at the scene said.

The leader of the renegade soldiers, General Noel Rakotonandrasana, said Thursday he would pursue his power grab bid despite receiving no backing from the rest of the army.

Rakotonandrasana played a crucial role in helping Madagascar's current leader Andry Rajoelina topple president Marc Ravalomanana in March 2009. Since that coup, a festering political crisis has plagued the Indian Ocean state.

He said Thursday the political limbo in Madagascar was untenable.

The International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank, said the coup announcement underscored the fragile political situation in Madagascar.

"Madagascar is in a precarious equilibrium, corruption is soaring and there is a severe danger of social explosion," the group's Southern Africa analyst Charlotte Larbuisson said in a statement.

"The population is becoming poorer and the state’s structures are crumbling. The extent and even reality of the military coup that some officers announced ... is still uncertain, but only credible elections can restore the constitutional order and revive the economy."

The coup attempt Wednesday came as Rajoelina's regime organised a constitutional referendum in a first step toward resolving the country's prolonged crisis.

The referendum was part of an August agreement between Rajoelina and some 100 small parties, which also calls for municipal elections in December, parliamentary polls in March next year and a presidential vote in May.

Efforts by the African Union and the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) to restore normalcy in Madagascar have failed as Rajoelina rejected a power-sharing deal with his three main opponents.

Ravalomanana and two former presidents who each head an opposition group called for a boycott of the referendum, accusing Rajoelina of failing to honour the previous agreements.

The Crisis Group said the SADC and other international mediators should reach a deal with Madagascar's de facto rulers to support an electoral process on condition Rajoelina does not contest and the poll time-table revised.

"The authorities claim they want credible elections, not least to earn international recognition. For that, they need to guarantee the opposition a level electoral playing field and stick to their promise," said the group's acting Africa director Ernst Jan Hogendoorn.

"Only that can avoid a disaster for the country and its population."


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