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African Union Delegates in Madagascar for Political Talks - 2002-08-13

A delegation of African Union leaders went to Madagascar Tuesday for talks about the country's political situation. The AU team is likely to push for new elections on the Indian Ocean island nation.

The African Union delegation is led by South African Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. She is accompanied by two senior AU diplomats in what her spokesman calls an attempt to bring peace and stability to Madagascar.

The African Union, which is currently led by South Africa, has refused to recognize the presidency of Marc Ravalomanana, who took office after a months-long standoff with his rival, former President Didier Ratsiraka. The AU calls it an unconstitutional change in government and is demanding new elections before it will allow Madagascar to take up its seat in the African Union.

Analyst Jakkie Cilliers, of the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies, says Mr. Ravalomanana does not really need recognition from his African neighbors. "He can get along without them," he said. "The major donors, the U.S. and countries such as Switzerland, Norway, Denmark, have already engaged with his government and France in particular, as well. So he possibly can get away without the support of his African partners. And in actual fact, he may decide not to take up his seat in the African Union and perhaps look elsewhere."

The spokesman for Foreign Minister Dlamini-Zuma says she is carrying a confidential message to Mr. Ravalomanana from South African President and AU chairman Thabo Mbeki.

It is not clear what that message says. AU leaders in the past have called for both presidential and parliamentary elections supervised by the African Union and the United Nations.

Mr. Cilliers says he does not think there will be an answer to the dispute between Madagascar and the African Union anytime soon.

"I think there's going to be an impasse for a while," he predicted. "And this provides a bit of a test for the African Union, and for Mbeki - particularly the fact that Senegal has turned around and decided to recognize [the Ravalomanana government]. That breaks ranks with the African Union, it breaks ranks with the first real common decision on a controversial issue that the AU has taken."

The AU delegation is scheduled to return to South Africa Wednesday after meeting with Mr. Ravalomanana.