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Madagascar’s Rival Leader Returns

June 24, 2002

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ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar (AP) _ Two weeks after leaving for France and triggering rumors he had gone into exile, Madagascar’s rival leader has returned to the island nation, officials said Monday. Didier Ratsiraka’s return means the country’s leadership struggle will continue.

Ratsiraka and Marc Ravalomanana have been fighting over the presidency since a disputed December election. Ravalomanana was sworn in as president last month after a court-sanctioned recount that Ratsiraka _ who was president at the time of the vote _ rejected.

After leaving June 13 for France, Ratsiraka returned early Sunday after what aides described as a diplomatic triumph at a weekend Organization of African Unity summit in Ethiopia. There, African leaders called for a transitional government in Madagascar and new elections on the divided island.

``This is a victory for diplomacy. Now we have to try and find a way to have national reconciliation and end the quasi war,″ said Jose Andrianoelison, Ratsiraka’s top adviser.

For the past six months, the country has had rival governments and militaries. Ravalomanana’s forces control the capital, Antananarivo, while Ratsiraka’s control many of the nation’s port cities.

Despite Ratsiraka’s return, Ravalomanana officials vowed to continue their string of military incursions into Ratsiraka strongholds and said they would continue to seek his arrest. They dismissed the OAU ruling, saying it was run by aging African dictators.

Western diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, also expressed frustration with the decision, saying it did not help move the crisis any closer to resolution.

When Ratsiraka left the former French colony for France, it led to speculation he had fled into exile. His associates denied that, saying he had gone abroad to seek help.

Last week, a plane carrying 12 French mercenaries was denied permission to land on the island and was sent back home, according to Ravalomanana aides and French officials. Ratsiraka’s aides denied he had hired the men.

Madagascar is off the coast of southeastern Africa.

Update hourly