Tense Madagascar talks continue

2010-04-30 18:02

Pretoria – Madagascar's rival leaders on Friday haggled over election dates and a proposed amnesty for ousted president Marc Ravalomanana, in talks here on the crisis sparked by last year's coup.

Ravalomanana was toppled in March 2009 after weeks of street protests led by Andry Rajoelina, the former mayor of the capital who took power with the military's blessing.

Repeated negotiations have stumbled on forming a unity government that would pave the way toward elections.

Talks held in Pretoria since Wednesday have turned on a roadmap backed by former colonial master France and South Africa, which are pushing for quick elections.

Tense talks

Former Mozambican president Joaquim Chissano is mediating the talks, which were described as "tense", according to a source within Rajoelina's movement.

The two rivals along with two former presidents of Madagascar met together for the first time late on Thursday, but the negotiations have deadlocked on Ravalomanana's demand for amnesty.

A draft agreement seen by AFP, calls for a United Nations enquiry into a February 7 2009 protest where Ravalomanana's guards opened fire on Rajoelina's backers, killing at least 28 people.

That incident helped push Rajoelina into power, although his government has not been recognised by international organisations.

International enquiry

"I don't think that Mr Ravalomanana alone can be implicated in the events of February 7," said a spokesperson for his movement, Guy Randrianarisoa. "We have always called for an international enquiry."

He said the amnesty was meant to shield Ravalomanana from convictions made since his exile in South Africa, so that the fallen leader can "return to Madagascar to contest the presidential election".

Ravalomanana was sentenced in June 2009 to four years in prison for conflicts of interests in the 2008 purchase of a presidential jet from the Disney group, which crystallised opposition to his government.

The two camps also remain divided on the timeline for new elections. The draft deal calls for legislative polls between July and September, followed by a presidential election.

Reversed sequence

Ravalomanana wants the sequence reversed; arguing presidential leadership is the heart of the crisis.

Talks between the two rivals – and with former presidents Didier Ratsiraka and Albert Zafy also in attendance – were held only late on Thursday after a little coaxing from Chissano, officials said.

Although the four political leaders had signed a power-sharing accord in November, Rajoelina subsequently rejected it, prompting the African Union to impose travel and economic bans on him and scores of his backers last month.

Madagascar's economy has collapsed since the international community cut off aid and the African Union applied sanctions, while the military has grown restless over the protracted political haggling.