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Legendary Mercenary Prepares to Surrender

October 5, 1995 GMT

MORONI, Comoros Islands (AP) _ Mercenaries and rebel Comorian soldiers exchanged farewells today, apparently convinced that their leader would soon surrender to the French forces that scotched his coup attempt.

Legendary soldier of fortune Bob Denard, a few dozen mercenaries and about 200 Comorian soldiers remained surrounded by French troops in a military barracks north of Moroni, the capital of the impoverished islands off East Africa.

``We’re still talking about it,″ Denard told reporters who had maneuvered past French troops to reach the barracks, indicating he and French officials continued to negotiate the terms of surrender.

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He granted an interview to a female television reporter, saying, ``It’s the only woman I’m going to see for a long time.″

His men, still carrying their weapons, shook hands and exchanged parting messages.

French troops armed with machine guns and a bazooka were posted on the main road to the barracks. The area was quiet, with no shooting since the French force arrived Wednesday morning.

Hours after the French took control of the Comoros Islands, Denard _ the most notorious mercenary in Africa _ freed the president he deposed one week ago and announced he was ready to give up on his latest coup attempt.

President Mohammed Said Djohar was taken to the nearby island of Reunion, where he was undergoing a checkup at a hospital today.

``I’m not going to resist,″ the 66-year-old Denard said in interviews with French television stations Wednesday night. ``I await nothing more, except to leave honorably. ... It’s a question of hours.″

Denard may be insisting on surrendering to a French general, rather than to Comorian officials.

Denard, gray-haired and limping after decades of soldiering, has staged several coups on this dirt-poor chain of islands between Mozambique and Madagascar, which he ruled through figurehead presidents from 1978 to 1989, when France negotiated his departure.

But Wednesday’s forceful intervention, in which at least three people were killed and 11 injured, seemed to mark an end to French tolerance for the buccaneering figure from another age who has claimed to have served French interests around Africa.

The French have demanded Denard’s unconditional surrender, saying they had issued an international warrant for his arrest. Prosecutors in France said that he had illegally left the country as they probed his role into the 1989 death of another Comorian president, Ahmed Abdallah Abderrahmane.

In a radio broadcast Wednesday, Comorian Prime Minister Mohammed Caabi el Yachroutou, who hid out in the French Embassy following the coup, announced an amnesty for all soldiers who supported the uprising.

Opposition groups who backed the coup against Djohar, whom they accused of incompetence and corruption, want elections as soon as possible. They were unlikely to support the new coalition government Yachroutou announced in a fax sent to France on Wednesday.

Denard had been living quietly in France since 1993, when he was given a five-year suspended sentence for trying to overthrow the Marxist government of Benin in 1977. He remains under a death sentence in Benin.

Since 1961, Denard has led uprisings in the Belgian Congo, Nigeria, Angola, Zimbabwe when it was white-ruled Rhodesia, Iran and Yemen.

The Comoros, with 500,000 residents, has a history of political instability since gaining independence from France in 1975.