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International Diplomats Seek Solution in Secession-Minded Comoros Island

A team of international diplomats has flown to a rebel island of the Comoros to try to avoid a military intervention by the central government. VOA's Scott Bobb reports from Nairobi the delegation is to meet with leaders on the island of Anjouan who are seeking to secede.

The spokesman for the Comoros government, Foreign Minister Abdurahman Said Bakar, tells VOA that the purpose of the mission is to persuade Colonel Mohamed Bacar to relinquish power so elections can be organized on the island of Anjouan.

"We will never accept that a part of the country will secede," Abdurahman said. "Therefore either we manage to do it peacefully if they agree. Otherwise the other alternative is to move in militarily to restore the authority of the union in the island."

He said the delegation, which reportedly includes representatives of the African Union and the French and U.S. embassies in Comoros, is proposing new internationally monitored elections.

Six years ago, Mohamed Bacar was elected president of Anjouan, one of four main islands that make up the Comoros federation. Comoros, with a population of 700,000, is an archipelago lying between Madagascar and the Mozambican coast.

Bacar was re-elected president last year in a vote that the central government does not recognize. He wants independence for the island, but the African Union views it as secession and has imposed sanctions. The African Union says it supports military intervention if negotiations do not succeed.

About 1,200 African troops, spearheaded by Tanzanian forces, have mustered on a nearby island and the Comoros government has hired Ukrainian helicopters to support them.

A political analyst in Nairobi, Agina Ojwang, says the problem involves yet another small nation with few resources.

"The case of Comoros is that of a state with a very weak state apparatus, what nowadays we call the failing state," Ojwang said.

But he said the Comoros lies in a strategic area of the Indian Ocean not far from the island of Diego Garcia, which is British but has a U.S. military base. He says there are worries that if such mini-states split, they could come under the influence of foreign elements that might seek to use them for military operations.

He said the solution is to institutionalize democracy and strengthen the delivery of public services to all the islands in the archipelago.