Grumbling in Army ranks sparks armed revolt in the Seychelles

The Seychelles Islands, best known for their placid beaches and pleasant climate, is gaining a reputation as a trouble spot.

After successfully fending off a coup attempt by foreign-based mercenaries less than a year ago, the government of President France Albert Rene faces new dissension -- this time from the inside.

At this writing members of the Seychelles People's Liberation Army are reported to have exchanged fire with police loyal to the government. The aim of the Army dissidents, and the extent of their support are not clear.

Sketchy reports indicate the soldiers want changes among their own Army superiors and some changes in the Cabinet, and are not seeking the ouster of President Rene.

The same reports say the rebels claim to have planted bombs at key installations to back up their demands and are holding a large number of hostages. President Rene was apparently away from the capital when the trouble started.

A rebel spokesman claimed in a radio interview that some of the mercenaries captured in last year's abortive coup were among the hostages. He requested ''support'' from South Africa, which was implicated in last year's coup bid.

Whatever the rebels' objectives, their action hits the Seychelles at a precarious time. The Seychelles has been trying to polish its somewhat tarnished image as a vacation spa. Tourism is its economic mainstay, providing about 90 percent of foreign exchange earnings.

President Rene is also under political pressure to deal severely with four mercenaries captured during the 1981 coup attempt. Four men have been sentenced to death, and some of Rene's supporters want the sentence carried out. However, there is speculation he will grant clemency to the mercenaries.

A South African court sentenced the mercenaries' leader, Mike Hoare, to 10 years in prison for hijacking a jet from the Seychelles to South Africa. Forty others were sentenced to terms ranging from six months to three years. The South African trial revealed that the South African Defense Force and the nation's intelligence service were involved.

The Seychelles, with a population of 63,000, is a former British colony located in the Indian Ocean east of Tanzania. It gained independence in 1976 under a coalition government headed by political opponents Rene, as prime minister, and the more right-of-center James Mancham as president.

Hoare testified in court that the mercenaries' aim was to restore Mancham to power. Mancham was toppled by Rene in a 1977 coup when armed men took control of the police station, the radio network, and the airport.

Rene advocates a socialist system domestically, and follows a policy of ''positive nonalignment'' internationally. He has refused to allow any foreign power to establish naval facilities on the islands. Soviet ships are allowed to make port visits, but American vessels are not because they refuse to confirm they are not carrying nuclear weapons.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.