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Ousted Comoran Military Leader Flees Anjouan

The ousted military leader of the breakaway Comoran island of Anjouan has fled the island. Since his overthrow last week Thursday, hopes are growing that democracy will be restored to Anjouan and the rest of the Comoros islands.

Colonel Said Abeid Abderemane took a small plane from Anjouan to Mayotte, a nearby French-ruled island, on Sunday. He is expected to eventually seek exile in Europe.

The military ruler was overthrown last Thursday in a military coup led by three army officers. The officers say they ousted Colonel Abderemane because he was a corrupt and authoritarian ruler.

Ahmed Rajab, editor of the London-based newsletter Africa Analysis, believes the colonel was also viewed as a stumbling block to recent efforts to re-unify the Comoros.

Anjouan unilaterally declared independence from the two other Comoros islands in 1997. Two years later Colonel Abderemane seized control of Anjouan.

His ouster came before a crucial meeting of delegates from all three islands that is due to examine a draft constitution for a new union of the islands.

In one of their first actions, Anjouan's new rulers made it clear they do not oppose re-unification. They promised to abide by an agreement reached last February to re-unite the three islands. But Mr. Rajab of "Africa Analysis" says it is hard to predict what will happen until the delegates from the islands meet to consider the draft constitution. The meeting is expected soon but no date has been set.

Mr. Rajab says he is encouraged by the fact that one of the coup leaders in Anjouan is also a member of the tripartite commission that is considering the new constitution. "Everything I think will be made clearer when the tripartite commission is held," he said. "It is significant that one of the people who are in the commission that is ruling now, Mr. Commandante Halidi Charif, is also a member of the tripartite commission. He is said to be for reconciliation and many people believe that he will deliver."

Mr. Rajab believes all the people of Comoros will benefit if the islands agree to re-unite. "First of all, it will mean that the secession will cease, with each island getting more autonomy to run its own affairs," he explained, "and there will be a return to civilian democratic rule for the whole of the Comoran archipelago."

The Comoros islands are in the Indian Ocean, off the east coast of Africa, 600 kilometers northwest of Madagascar.