- Title: COMOROS: Comoros soldiers brace for assault on breakaway island
- Date: 28th February 2008
- Summary: (AD1) MORONI, GRANDE COMORE, COMOROS (RECENT - FEBRUARY 21, 2008) (REUTERS) MOSQUE BY MORONI PORT VARIOUS OF CARS, PEOPLE IN STREET
- Embargoed: 14th March 2008 12:00
- Location: Comoros
- Country: Comoros
- Topics: International Relations,Defence / Military
- Reuters ID: LVAEG6SKQZ776841R3AF02AW6HBD
- Story Text: The sleepy Comoros island of Moheli has become a military garrison where squads of soldiers are waiting for a cue to invade.
Soldiers jog and train, in yet another stand-off in the coup-prone Indian Ocean archipelago. This one has been gathering momentum since mid-2007 when the self-declared leader of Anjouan, one of Comoros' three islands, claimed victory in an illegal election.
Comoros' federal government, run by President Ahmed Abdullah Mohamed Sambi, is threatening an imminent assault on Anjouan to oust its leader Mohamed Bacar.
"The population in Anjouan is waiting, people are scared, and they have even written on their walls that they are awaiting the liberation of the island. Therefore we know that the population is behind us and that some of Bacar's rebels have begun absconding out of fear. They know that the invasion is imminent and that it will be necessary to establish order so that justice can be done immediately after that," said presidential spokesman, Abdourahim Said Bacar, The smallest of Comoros' three islands, with an estimated population of about 40,000 people, Moheli is also its poorest.
But it has a special place in the archipelago's history. It was the site in 2001 of a pact between Comoros' three islands to stay together under a single federal government and agree to a new constitution.
Today it is the launching pad for a military effort to secure that union.
"The decision by the head of state is in order to re-establish constitutional legality on our island - where someone is trying to secede. It is not for us to approve or disapprove. It is up to him, he is the only one who can decide to go or not to go. So, if the President decides to go there, we can only respect this decision. In any case, the constitution gives him the full authority to do so," said opposition politician, Ifhami Said Ibrahim.
The Federal Islamic Republic of the Comoros is a fragile state with a population of about 700,000 who are trying to shake off a turbulent history -- there have been at least 20 coups since independence from France in 1975.
First settled by Arab seafarers about 1,000 years ago, the tropical islands later became a haven for pirates.
Comoros' population is now growing faster than its economy. Average incomes have shrunk in real terms for the past 20 years.
The Anjouan crisis has distracted the Comoros federal government's attention from its anti-poverty priorities.
The African Union (AU) and many people on the archipelago are firmly against Bacar -- against whom it has placed travel sanctions. Sudan, Senegal, Libya and Tanzania have promised military assistance to Sambi.
"It is legitimate; it is legitimate certainly because the assembly has voted on a resolution to let him do all that is necessary, all that is constitutional," said resident, Yusef Ali Mchangame, on the main island of Grand Comore.
"I think that the president has legitimate reasons to do everything he can to resolve this crisis," added Via Karida, also on Grand Comore.
Bacar charges the federal government with discriminating against Anjouan, which is home to about 300,000 people. Previous attempts by the government in 1997 and 2007 to take control of the island by force both failed.
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