Comoros Coup Leader Says He’ll Surrender
MORONI, Comoros Islands (AP) _ Hundreds of French commandos backed by helicopters and warships seized control of the Comoros Islands today, demanding the surrender of the mercenary who took over the country last week.
Reporters saw at least three dead and 11 wounded. French officers reported no casualties among their troops and said they took 29 prisoners.
About 600 camouflaged French commandos landed at the airport at dawn, carrying rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns. They commandeered a mobile stairway from the airport and drove it through streets as a portable vantage point for soldiers.
Earlier, about 40 commandos swarmed ashore on inflatable speedboats and battled with 30 Comorian soldiers and four French mercenaries, said Capt. Robert Pellegrin, the commander of the assault.
By late today, French troops had routed coup supporters and surrounded their silver-haired leader, Bob Denard, at the barracks where he has been holding President Said Mohamed Djohar since Thursday.
Denard, a 66-year-old Frenchman who walks with a limp, said he was prepared to negotiate his surrender.
``I don’t want to have a bloodbath on my conscience. We will negotiate,″ Denard told reporters.
Denard has twice staged takeovers on this archipelago off east Africa. He said his terms of surrender would include protection for Djohar. As to his own fate, ``I think it would be Le Sante,″ Denard said, referring to one of France’s main prisons.
But the French demanded his unconditional surrender, saying they had issued an international warrant for his arrest.
French troops also seized an abandoned airport near the central harbor and secured the area around the French Embassy where the prime minister had sought refuge.
Puma helicopters buzzed in close over rooftops. Gunfire resonated throughout the city, and three French warships could be seen offshore. In all, the intervention force comprised about 1,000 troops.
Reporters saw two Comorian soldiers lying dead in the street. A taxi driver transporting a French newsman also was killed today.
A French general said in Paris today that President Jacques Chirac made the decision to intervene late Friday, a few hours after his government said it would not do so.
French officials declined to say exactly what prompted the change of plans, but it came amid calls by Comorian officials to intervene. The Comoros Islands has a mutual defense agreement with France, which ruled the islands until 1975.
Coup leaders had hoped to turn over control to a civilian leadership and avoid a fight with France. But a coalition of the would-be leaders collapsed Tuesday amid disagreement over what role Denard and other mercenaries would play.
Comorian Prime Minister Mohammed Caabi el-Yachroutou announced in a fax today that he had formed a new coalition government supported by 13 parties. Yachroutu said he had also formed a 12-member Cabinet.
State radio broadcast appeals from Comorian military leaders involved in the coup for residents to fight the French. But on the streets, people shouted for Denard and the mercenaries to get out.
Nine of the wounded were in hospitals, doctors said, and two were at the French embassy. The injured included a French reporter and a French photographer.
The Comoros, with 500,000 residents, has a history of political instability since gaining independence in 1975.
In the 1978 coup, Denard placed Ahmed Abdallah Abderrahmane in the presidency and commanded the presidential guard. He was ousted by the French after Abdallah’s 1989 assassination, in which Denard was suspected.
Denard had been living quietly in France since 1993, when he was given a five-year suspended sentence for trying to overthrow the Marxist government of Benin in 1977. He remains under a death sentence in Benin.
In issuing the arrest warrant today, French officials said Denard had no right to leave France while under suspended sentence.
Since 1961, Denard has led uprisings in the Belgian Congo, Nigeria, Angola, Zimbabwe when it was white-ruled Rhodesia, Iran and Yemen.