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Mediators meet over Madagascar

2011-06-06 08:50

Gaborone - Madagascar's feuding political leaders were gathering on Monday for a meeting in Botswana that regional mediators are describing as the last chance to find a solution to the country's two-year-old deadlock.

The two-day meeting of 11 political parties was convened by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), whose mediation team for Madagascar has proposed a road map that would guide the crisis-torn Indian Ocean Island to new elections.

But it is unclear how the mediation team, led by former Mozambican president Joaquim Chissano, plans to resolve the impasse around the plan, which has been rejected by ousted president Marc Ravalomanana and two other key leaders.

Ravalomanana, who has been in exile in South Africa since his military-backed overthrow in March 2009, has refused to sign off on the road map, which would allow him to return to Madagascar only when the "political and security environment [is] favourable".

The plan would also make Ravalomanana's rival, baby-faced strongman Andry Rajoelina, president of a transitional government that would steer the country to new elections.

It gives no guarantee that Ravalomanana would be allowed to participate in the polls or be included in an amnesty for criminal charges related to the political turmoil.

Ravalomanana faces life in prison if he returns to Madagascar after he was sentenced in absentia for the 2009 murder of a group of protesters by his presidential guard.

A spokesperson for Ravalomanana said on the eve of the meeting that the ousted leader still rejected the road map.

"I'm not 100% certain what [the mediators] are going to expect," spokesperson Patrick Gearing told AFP.

Elections

"If SADC's going to follow due process, they're going to have to start with the existing road map" - which, he said, meant the talks risked hitting a deadlock before they started.

But a spokesperson for the mediation team said changing the road map was not on the agenda.

Asked whether the meeting would discuss changes to the plan, spokesperson John Tesha said, "I don't think so".

"They are discussing how to implement the road map," he told AFP.

"I don't know what [Ravalomanana] will say. I know that we are here to discuss how to go towards free, fair and credible elections. If he doesn't want it, it's up to him."

After Ravalomanana's overthrow, SADC initially condemned Rajoelina's power grab and suspended the island nation.

But two years on, the regional bloc has had little success convincing Rajoelina to relinquish power.

A string of mediation talks in the Mozambican capital, Maputo, ended in a power-sharing deal between the two rival leaders and former presidents Didier Ratsiraka and Albert Zafy.

But Rajoelina later dismissed the deal, sending mediators back to the drawing board.