We never meant to attack - army

2010-05-20 16:35

Antananarivo - A gun battle broke out on Thursday in central Antananarivo between rival Madagascan security forces, wounding at least six people, an AFP correspondent reported.

The shooting broke out when army and gendarmerie units confronted members of the gendarmerie's elite intervention unit (FIGN) who began a protest against their superiors on Wednesday.

It was not immediately clear whether there was any political dimension to the clash, which erupted as political players on the Indian Ocean island nation struggled to find a way out of a crisis sparked by a March 2009 coup.

Six people were admitted to the capital's main HJRA hospital with bullet wounds, head of emergency services Cornell Rafolohanitrarivo told AFP, without providing any details on the identity of the victims.

An AFP reporter near the scene of the shooting earlier saw one civilian with a bullet wound to the leg being evacuated by the Red Cross.

'We never meant to attack'

"We are currently securing the area because there were rumours they (the mutineers) would take to the streets," Colonel Richard Ravalomanana, who is leading the military operation, told AFP.

"We never meant to attack but they started opening fire on us. We only retaliated for half an hour when we decided to move towards their base," he said. "We're moving slowly, we have to be wary of collateral damage."

The army commander said he estimated the total number of rebel FIGN members was no more than 30.

The rebel security forces set up mobile checkpoints around their base at Fort Duchesne on Wednesday.

The shooting, which started at around 07:45 was sustained for around an hour, and has been more sporadic since.

Rajoelina's coup

The vast island state has been unstable since a March 2009 coup led by Andry Rajoelina, a 35-year-old former DJ who ousted president Marc Ravalomanana with the army's support.

According to security sources, the main grievance of the mutineers is related to money paid to their former boss by Ravalomanana early last year, when Rajoelina was leading street protests against his regime.

The mutineers accuse their former boss General Bruno Razafindrakoto of keeping all $236 000 for himself.

Another political ingredient in Thursday's skirmish was that the rebel FIGN apparently intended to protect a planned demonstration by a pro-Ravalomanana movement.

Since taking power, Rajoelina has failed to secure international backing and left the country in a state of institutional limbo.

International mediation efforts involving Ravalomanana and two other former presidents have so far failed.

The crisis has left Rajoelina increasingly isolated on the international scene as well as domestically, with the army increasingly reluctant to back him.