Comoran-AU troops still hunting for breakaway leader on Anjouan

(dpa) - Comoran and African Union (AU) troops had established control over all Anjouan Wednesday a day after they invaded the Indian Ocean island, one of three in the Union of the Comoros, to reclaim it from renegade leader Colonel Mohammed Bacar, a government spokesman said.

"At this stage we can say the island is fully under control," Comoran Education Minister and government spokesman Abdourahim Said Bacar told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa by telephone from the federal capital Moroni on Grande Comore island.

Key strategic points such as the airport, banks and the harbour had all been secured, he said.

The focus had now shifted to finding Colonel Bacar, who was spotted moving towards the south of the tiny island that occupies an area of 424 square kilometres after fleeing the presidential palace in Ouani, near the capital Mutsamudu, he said.

The coalition forces were patrolling the coast to prevent his escape, he added.

On Tuesday, in a widely-anticipated move, a force of around 1,200 Comoran and AU troops invaded the island by sea to oust Bacar, ending a nearly year-long standoff between Anjouan (Nzwani in Skikomoro) and the federal government of Comoran President Ahmed Sambi.

The situation was triggered by Bacar's holding of presidential elections in 2007 which Sambi's government deemed illegitimate. Bacar had been Anjouan's president since 2002.

The invading forces met with only small pockets of resistance from Bacar's security forces, estimated to number only a few hundred. Television images shows scenes of people in the streets rejoicing at the unpopular colonel's ouster.

There are no reports of deaths in the fighting. The federal government's Bacar said he knew of only one or two injured, none critically.

Coalition troops were securing the island Wednesday to prevent further looting following reports of pilfering at the presidential palace, said Abdourahim Said Bacar.

Anjouan is one of three main islands in the tiny Union of the Comores republic, which lies in the Indian Ocean between south-east Africa and Madagascar. The other two are Grande Comore (Njazidja) and Moheli (Mwali).

Tuesday's invasion began a day after Sambi ordered the invasion to retake Anjouan, in a move that had been expected after the African Union gave the green light in February for Operation Democracy in Comoros and moved troops to a nearby island to support it.

South African President Thabo Mbeki opposed the military operation, describing it as "unfortunate" and saying diplomatic attempts to resolve the impasse had not been exhausted.

Sambi's government has said one of its first priorities will be to establish an interim government charged with organizing fresh presidential elections.

The Comoros has been plagued by 19 coups and coup attempts since its independence from France in 1975. A fourth island, Mayotte, voted against independence from France in the 1970s, and remains a French territory.

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