The government of Comoros says its forces have captured most of the rebel-held island of Anjouan, following a pre-dawn invasion. Correspondent Scott Bobb reports from our Southern Africa Bureau in Johannesburg.
The spokesman for the Comoros government, Education Minister Abdourahim Said Bacar, says Comoran troops backed by African Union forces from Tanzania and Sudan landed before dawn on the rebel-island.
"The troops have moved in early this morning in the island of Anjouan. And they have already taken possession of the three major cities," he said.
He said the army is in control of the island's capital, Mutsamudi, its port as well as the towns of Ouani and Domoni. The spokesman said coalition forces encountered some resistance near the residence of rebel leader Colonel Mohamed Bacar in Barakani. There were no reports on casualties.
Comoran President Ahmed Abdallah Sambi announced the operation Monday on national radio.
The president said he had ordered the incursion in order to liberate Anjouan from what he called the "rebellion" led by Mohamed Bacar. He praised the Comoran soldiers and thanked the African Union and the countries that supported the operation.
Mohamed Bacar was elected president of Anjouan seven years ago under a union constitution that granted considerable autonomy and a separate president to each of the three islands in the archipelago. He was re-elected last year in elections that he organized, but which were not recognized internationally.
The French trained former policeman said he wanted more autonomy for Anjouan and in recent days offered to hold new elections. But after months of negotiations the African Union called the offer another delaying-tactic and said it backed a military solution for the island.
The African Union sent about 1,400 troops from Tanzania and Sudan with logistical support from Libya, France, and the United States.
Spokesman Said Bacar outlined the Comoran government's priorities for Anjouan, once the situation has been stabilized.
"The first step is to establish a transitional government whose mission will be to organize the election in three months at the latest," added Said Bacar.
He says another priority will be to disarm Mohamed Bacar's militias and find their leader. The government says if the renegade colonel is captured it will to put him on trial for insubordination, corruption and human rights abuses.
During its 32 years of independence, Comoros has experienced several attempted secessions and more than a dozen coups or attempted coups, some of them led by foreign mercenaries.