France jails Comoros rebel leader following AU intervention

Comorian rebel leader Mohamed Bacar was taken into custody on the French Indian Ocean island of Reunion April 4 at the request of Comoros, which is demanding his extradition. French officials are also considering Bacar’s request for asylum. Bacar fled the Comoros island of Anjouan last week when Comorian and African Union troops toppled his breakaway government. Bacar and 22 followers first fled to the French island of Mayotte, but his presence there provoked riots and he was transferred to the larger island of Reunion. (Reuters, April 4)

Relations between France and the Comoros are tense, with Comorian leaders raising suspicions of French meddling in its former colony, which became independent in 1975. Following Bacar’s escape, anti-French protests erupted in Moroni, capital of the biggest Comorian island, with demonstrators burning French flags and effigies of President Nicolas Sarkozy. (Reuters, March 29)

Bacar’s brief rebellion was put down March 25, when the Comorian government announced that it had captured the capital and airport of Anjouan in an AU-backed seaborne assault. Some 1,350 AU troops particiapted in the operation. French-trained former gendarme Mohamed Bacar claimed power in a contested election last year. But some are clearly hoping this will provide a precedent for AU operations against rogue states and Islamists. Writes Gerrie Swart of Consultancy Africa for the Middle East news website Media Line:

This is perhaps the most significant act by the AU since its inception in 2002, and could possibly signal a greater willingness to intervene in those African countries where political instability, violence and renegade leaders and regimes threaten long-term peace and security.

The Comoros invasion, whether warranted or ill-conceived, has now set a precedent for similar AU actions in the future… There are many other African countries with equal if not graver crisis situations, where the AU has not been implementing similar pressure… Should the AU have the responsibility to protect in defiance of the whims and self-interest of the regime, where clear human rights violations are taking place? Should it act, or simply react when called upon to do so? …Has the Comoros intervention signalled a radical departure in the AU’s policy of intervention? Will pre-emption now form a critical component of African peacekeeping and conflict resolution?

(The Media Line, April 8)

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