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Separatist leader flees Anjouan

A local journalist told IRIN on Monday that ousted Comoran separatist leader Said Abeid Abderemane may be heading for France. On Sunday Abeid fled the breakaway island of Anjouan aboard a small plane to Mayotte, a nearby French-ruled island, according to eye witnesses. “Based on reliable sources in Mayotte I believe he will soon be on his way to Paris via (the island of) La Reunion,” Akbal Ali Saleh told IRIN. Colonel Abeid, the former self-proclaimed president of Anjouan who was ousted in a bloodless military takeover on Thursday, had been under house arrest on the island before Sunday’s flight. Another journalist told IRIN that there was growing discontent in Anjouan’s main city of Mutsamudu that Colonel Abeid had been allowed to leave. Diplomatic sources told IRIN on Monday that the city was reported calm, with flights arriving, a small number of tourists relaxing on the beach and hotels, and shops and offices open as usual. But the journalist warned of a confrontation between rival military groups or violence sparked by youths who want to see the former strongman brought to justice. “There is a level of resentment that Abeid’s departure may have been facilitated by foreign powers,” the journalist said. Already some members of his family have reportedly been arrested. Comoros President Colonel Azaly Assoumani has made no comment about the takeover but Prime Minister Hamada Madi Bolero met the ambassadors of China, Libya and France and the heads of UN agencies on Grande Comore on Friday for consultations on the takeover, officials said. Diplomatic sources told IRIN on Monday that the government was expected to say more about the situation on Anjouan when a more complete picture of events had been established. A statement on Anjouan radio at the weekend identified the members of the military committee now ruling the island as Hassani Ali, Mohamed Bacar and Halidi Charif, describing them as military commanders. Although the military committee said on Saturday it would pursue efforts made by the administration it ousted to end secessionist strife on the Indian Ocean islands, Ali Saleh said that the spectre of renewed fighting on Anjouan would do nothing to aid the OAU-sponsored national reconciliation process in the Comoros. Anjouan’s unilateral secession in 1997 was driven by discontent over the political and economic dominance of Grande Comore, as well as its perceived mismanagement of the economy. The island chain of Grande Comore, Anjouan and Moheli has had a history of coups since independence from France in 1975. The three islands, with a total population of about 710,000 people, have gone their separate ways, sometimes violently, in recent years. But they have been trying to patch up their differences and re-form a new federation. In February, Abeid signed a framework agreement with Azaly, paving the way for Anjouan to return to the federation. A new draft constitution for the union has recently been drawn up and was being discussed in Moheli by representatives of all three islands when the coup occurred.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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