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Crackdown On Opposition

UN Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN), 6 September 2000

Johannesburg - The regime on the breakaway island of Anjouan has cracked down on opposition supporters who have denounced a reconciliation agreement signed with the Comoros government on Moroni as a "gimmick" designed to keep both military governments in power.

More than 100 people were reportedly arrested on Saturday after security forces loyal to Colonel Said Abderemanein broke up clashes between pro-separatists and anti-regime militants over the cooperation deal. Most of those detained are believed to be from the opposition.

"There have been very flagrant violations of human rights. People have been arrested, tortured, raped and we don't know where they are being kept," one diplomat on Moroni told IRIN. "The Comoro government hasn't said anything. This is the worrying aspect, as if everybody is an accomplice to what's happening in Anjouan."

The international community has rejected the reconciliation deal signed on Saturday between Abderemanein and Comoros strongman Colonel Assoumani Azali, officially aimed at ending Anjouan's three-year-old secession. The "declaration of intent" refers to an undefined single Comoros "entity" sharing a common defence and foreign policy, and the establishment of a joint committee to develop a new constitution to be put to referendum in February 2002.

On Saturday, the Comoro government unilaterally lifted travel, communications and economic sanctions on Anjouan applied by the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) over Abderemanein's refusal to accept an OAU-mediated peace agreement signed in Madagascar in April 1999. That accord guaranteed greater autonomy for the three Comoros islands of Moroni, Moheli and Anjouan within a federal structure.

"Those not buying the new deal view it as a delaying tactic, to thwart OAU sanctions and as a gimmick by the regimes in Anjouan and Moroni to buy time," the diplomat said. Azali, who seized power in April 1999, was supposed to have quit office in April this year. The military government has since been silent on its date of departure.

The envoy said the ball was now in the OAU's court, which insists the Madagascar accord remains the basis of an agreement. Regional countries have been preparing plans for a naval blockade of Anjouan led by South Africa after two rounds of sanctions this year crippled the Anjouan economy but failed to end the secession crisis.

The OAU could now also consider "another sanctions resolution on the entire Comoros islands," whose 692,000 people live off remittances from its citizens abroad, and exports of vanilla, ylang-ylang and cloves. "Comoros is very vulnerable, it cannot live without external support," the diplomat commented. "But it depends on the position the OAU takes, or whether the international community will abandon the Comoros issue."

The three Indian Ocean islands have been plagued by political instability since independence from France in 1975. Factions on Anjouan are divided between former supporters of separatism based in the capital Mutsamudu who now favour a re-united Comoros, and a hardline group of Abderemanein followers centred around the second town of Domoni. Amid widespread reports of international crime syndicates operating on the Indian Ocean islands, one political source alleged that "separatism is only a disguise to give Abderemaine's group a freehand."

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