The military ruler in the Comoro islands, Colonel Azali Assoumani, said on Wednesday that power would be returned to civilians at the beginning of 2002 and added that he would not stand for election, AFP reported. “Power will be restored to democratically elected civilians, insh’Allah (God willing), as we say,” Azali told the news agency in an interview in Paris. The handover would come early next year after new institutions had been set up, he said. “I’m going to become a citizen,” said the head of state who seized power in the latest of many coups in the Indian Ocean archipelago on 30 April 1999. He “totally” ruled out standing for election himself. “If the authorities want me then, I’m a soldier, they can send me where they will. If they don’t want me, I’ll retire, because I’m 42 years old, I have a family and children. I have to bring them up and I think my country needs me, one way or another, to contribute to its development,” he was quoted as saying. On 17 February Azali signed an agreement paving the way for a transition to democracy with the leaders of Anjouan, one of the three islands in the Islamic Federal Republic of the Comoros, who unilaterally seceded from the group in August 1997. A “follow-up committee” was set up and first met in Moroni, the capital on Grande-Comore island, early in March, with a brief to draw up a new constitution for a loose federation and to set up an independent national electoral commission. “The end of the constitutional crisis will come with free and democratic elections. We think, and this is what everybody wants, that from January 2002, the Comoros will return to a situation of constitutional normality,” he said. The opposition has refused to join the follow-up committee, accusing Azali of wanting to monopolise the proceedings and to sideline mediators from the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), but Azali was quoted as saying that the crisis in relations with Anjouan had been “almost ironed out”. “We have to consolidate our reconciliation, but I believe that the 17 February accord has put an end to separatism and the Anjouanese agree on living together in the same state, with the same border. The problem is to set out the degree of autonomy to be given to the islands,” Azali said, adding that he would go to Anjouan in April for a meeting of the follow-up committee. He described the move as a “very symbolic decision”, since no Comoran head of state had set foot on the island since 1997.
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