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Comoros sends 300 men to rebel island

September 3, 1997

MORONI, Comoros (AP) _ Officials in Comoros have dispatched 300 troops to the rebel island of Anjouan, which proclaimed its independence from the Indian Ocean nation in July and wants to reunite with France.

Two ships, requisitioned by authorities, left the port of Moroni for Anjouan in the early afternoon Tuesday, though it was not clear if the force would land or remain offshore in a show of force.

On Monday, military vehicles towed weaponry, including mortars and rocket-launchers, toward Moroni, witnesses said on condition of anonymity.

The four main Comoros Islands, just off Africa’s east coast between Mozambique and Madagascar, are Grand Comore, where the government is based, Anjouan, Moheli and Mayotte.

Fighting broke out last week on the island of Moheli, a second separatist Comorian island that wants to reunite with France, the country’s former colonial ruler.

Residents on Anjouan and Moheli say the government of President Abdallah Taki Abdoulkarim is corrupt and that French rule would return justice, health care and education to the impoverished islands.

Also Monday, phone lines between Moroni and Anjouan were cut, following the suspension of sea and air links. As a result, the separatists of Anjouan have built barricades at their Ouani airport and placed two ships at the port’s entrance to try to block any Comorian landing, a separatist source said on condition of anonymity.

The Comorian army’s chief of staff, Col. Moilimou Djoussouf, said he was replaced by a Lt. Col. Haroun, who took charge of the operation. Djoussouf said in a telephone interview that he opposed the military option to solve the crisis.

The force had not yet decided whether to land on the island, a military source said on condition of anonymity.

The operation appeared to contradict Aug. 15 accords in which Comorian authorities and the separatists were to seek a negotiated settlement under the auspices of the Organization for African Unity.

The military action was condemned by OAU representative Pierre Yere, in Moroni since Saturday making final preparations for a Comoros conference planned in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Sept. 10.

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