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OAU Ministers Discuss Comoros Problems - 2002-01-18

Ministers from the Organization of African Unity, or OAU, have met in South Africa to discuss the situation in the troubled Comoros islands. They are trying to find ways to help a transition to democracy in the tiny Indian Ocean archipelago.

OAU Secretary-General Amara Essy has praised the Comoran people for going to the polls peacefully last month. Voters overwhelmingly adopted a new constitution binding the three Comoran islands together as a nation.

The archipelago has been rocked by a series of coups and coup attempts since gaining independence from France in 1974. The breakaway island of Anjouan seceded from the nation in 1997, but its own leadership changed in August after a military uprising.

Mr. Essy said the success of the constitutional referendum shows the Comoran people want to remain together as a nation. The OAU leader spoke in Pretoria at the start of a new round of talks aimed at preparing for presidential elections scheduled for March.

The meeting was attended by representatives of 10 African nations, including the foreign ministers of the Comoros, Mozambique, South Africa and Zambia.

Mr. Essy told them the transition to democracy in the Comoros will require financial support from the rest of the world. He said the OAU and individual African nations have already donated more than $3.5 million to the transition process. But, he said, it will take more.

He said security remains a serious concern in the Comoros, especially after the foiled invasion of the island of Moheli last month. Just days before the referendum, 13 armed French mercenaries took over parts of the island before being defeated by the Comoran army.

Mr. Essy said those events have raised serious concerns about the security of the country and the fragility of the ongoing transition process - but he also said despite some setbacks, it is fair to say major progress has been made toward reconciliation.