Mercenaries Claim Resistance to Their Coup Has Ceased
NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) _ Foreign mercenaries holding the Comoros Islands president hostage said today that all resistance to their coup had ceased and promised to hold democratic elections in the nation off Africa’s east coast.
The mercenaries led by Frenchman Bob Denard took over the national radio and announced in a broadcast today that they had formed a military committee that would help form a new government.
Denard’s forces, believed to be made up of about 20 mercenaries and dozens of Comorian rebels, also controlled the main military base in Moroni, the capital. All of the Comorian military’s weapons are stored at that base. It was unclear if any Comorian soldiers took part in the coup.
Abdoullwahab Kamal, the charge d’affaires at the Comorian Embassy in Paris, acknowledged Denard’s forces controlled the radio station and military base, but denied they were in full control of the islands.
No fighting was reported in the capital today. At least two people were killed in fighting on Thursday, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported.
President Said Mohamed Djohar was still being held, and coup leaders said he was unharmed.
France, the former colonial ruler of the impoverished islands located between Madagascar and Mozambique, condemned the coup, cut off all economic aid to the Comoros and put its 4,000 troops in the region on alert.
But French Prime Minister Alain Juppe said today that France had no intention of intervening militarily.
Comorian Interior Minister Ali Mohammed Allaoui, who was in Paris when the coup began, had asked France to intervene.
Coup leaders, in a statement sent to The Associated Press, promised free and democratic elections would be held as soon as possible. The statement called for national unity and constitutional reform.
The coup leaders said they had formed a military transition committee that would rule until a temporary council could be appointed to run the country until elections.
Capt. Ayouba Combo, the head of the military committee, said in an interview with Radio France International that the president ``is safe. He is left alone where he is. He is in good health.″
Combo also said that Denard would play no important role in the new government.
The attack was led by Denard, a French mercenary who staged a 1978 coup and effectively ruled the islands for more than a decade until he was driven out by French troops in 1989.
Djohar, the former head of the supreme court, was elected president in March 1990. Dissidents depict him as dictatorial and corrupt.
The mercenaries freed all the inmates at the prison in Moroni, including those sentenced for a failed 1992 coup led by people close to Denard.
The Comoros have been politically unstable since independence. The United Nations lists the country, which has a population of 500,000, as one of the world’s poorest.
The Moroni airport was reportedly closed. The islands attract more than 17,000 tourists a year, mostly from France, who come for the beaches, fishing and mountain scenery.
Denard was given a five-year suspended sentence in France two years ago for trying to overthrow the Marxist government of Benin in 1977. He remains under a death sentence in Benin.
Known by several aliases during his career, Denard was one of the so-called ``affreux,″ or frightful ones _ white mercenaries who helped maintain dictatorial regimes in Africa and Asia.