As the Comoros prepare for upcoming elections that will test their new power-sharing arrangement, South Africa is gearing up to do its part in ensuring the April elections are free and fair. Following a one-week fact-finding mission to assess the archipelago's readiness and requirements for the elections, a South African technical delegation presented their findings to the African Union's (AU) Peace and Security Committee. "South Africa has an interest in the stability of the Comoros - it would do anything in its power and contribute all necessary resources - but under the AU flag, not unilaterally," Vincent Hlongwane, a South African Foreign Ministry spokesperson, told IRIN. He said the mission delegation, which had "a strong defence and security component", had met with government representatives of the Union and the three autonomous islands in the archipelago. The history of Comoros has been plagued by successful and attempted coups, and the more recent temporary secession of two of the three islands. In a power-sharing agreement brokered by the AU's predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity, the Comoros constitution was amended at the end of the 2001 to give each of the islands its own semi-autonomous government with its own president, and changed the country's name to the Union of Comoros. In March 2002, Assoumani Azali from Grand Comore, the largest island, was elected the federal president of the new union. He is expected to stand down in the coming elections when the presidency, according to the agreement, should go to one of the smaller islands, either Moheli or Anjouan. South Africa has played an important role in mediating the long-running secessionist crisis. "It is an AU initiative, but South Africa has been involved in the dispute for quite some time and has an obligation. This is part of the process of ensuring that elections are free and fair," Hlongwane remarked. The South African government has reportedly said it was willing to deploy military observers from its own security forces if the AU were to ask it to do so.
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