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Senegalese President Works to Moderate Madagascar's Political Conflict - 2002-06-21

Representatives of several African countries are gathering in Ethiopia in hopes of resolving the political turmoil in Madagascar. Senegal's president, Abdoulaye Wade is among those attempting to mediate a resolution to the political conflict.

Senegalese leader Abdoulaye Wade has been a key figure in trying to resolve the standoff in the island nation of Madagascar, off Africa's southeastern coast, where both the current and former president claim power.

In April, President Wade invited the two rivals, Madagascar's newly designated president, Marc Ravalomanana, and its former president, Didier Ratsiraka, to his country for peace talks. But so far, there has been no breakthrough.

Friday's meeting in Ethiopia is sponsored by the Organization of African Unity. Although Mr. Ratsiraka is participating in the meeting, Mr. Ravalomanana is not. He is reportedly sending his foreign affairs minister instead.

In Paris, Mr. Wade said President Ravalomanana was following suggestions by African leaders to ensure his authority in Madagascar was legitimate. "We launched a program for Madagascar, and this program has been accepted by Mr. Ravalomanana. He appointed a new government. He accepted [agreed] to organize new legislative elections, instead of presidential elections," Mr. Wade said.

He said legislative elections in Madagascar were a better way of determining the legitimacy of Mr. Ravalomanana's government instead of holding another expensive presidential election.

Last week, Madagascar's former president, Mr. Ratsiraka, flew to Paris on a private visa. On Wednesday, a plane carrying a dozen French mercenaries left France bound for Madagascar. But the French government ordered the plane to be intercepted. And after a stop in Tanzania, the aircraft returned to France early Thursday. President Ravalomanana accuses Mr. Ratsiraka of trying to use the mercenaries to topple him from power.

Mr. Wade condemned the use of mercenaries as a way to stay in power. "It is not so good to bring in mercenaries. If a head of state is obliged to use mercenaries to stay in power, I think that's the last thing he should do. This is not good for Africa," he said.

Mr. Wade was democratically elected as Senegal's president in March 2000, after years in the opposition. But he acknowledges achieving power through democratic means - and stepping down from power - remains a problem elsewhere in Africa.