African forces invade rebel Comoros
A victory in the disintegrating Indian Ocean archipelago could affirm the African Union's international legitimacy.
The Comoros, an unstable archipelago off the coast of East Africa, landed troops early Tuesday on the breakaway island of Anjouan to crush a year-old rebellion, one day after dropping leaflets warning the population. The government said its forces, backed by larger numbers of African Union (AU) troops, had taken control of the island's airport and main towns, and had urged rebel leader Mohamad Bacar to surrender.Skip to next paragraph
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A French-trained former police chief, Mr. Bacar faces federal charges of treason, usurpation of power, torture, and war crimes. Last year, he refused to step down after an election that authorities ruled illegal and has since continued to govern Anjouan as a separate state. Authorities have pledged to depose Bacar and install a transitional government to organize fresh elections for the island in May.
About 700,000 people live in the Coromos, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean near Madagascar. Some 300,000 reside in Anjouan, one of three main islands that make up the Coromos. The islands declared independence from France in 1975, and the country has since faced numerous problems arising from tensions between the islands and a central government.
Tuesday's amphibious assault on Anjouan began at dawn when mortar and machine-gun fire was heard on the island, the BBC reports. Around 450 Comoran troops supported by up to 1,500 AU military personnel were deployed. Defense chief of staff Mohamad Dosara said AU troops had entered the capital, Mutsamudu, where Mr. Bacar is believed to have the protection of several hundred armed police.
Bacar's whereabouts are unknown, phone lines to the island have been cut, and the BBC says authorities have been unable to confirm any casualties.
Agence France-Presse reports from Mutsamudu that Bacar's forces clashed with AU troops near his residence outside the capital, after apparently abandoning the presidential palace. In the city, however, Tanzanian soldiers entered without resistance to the cheers of local residents, according to witnesses.
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....
In an interview ... 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.