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World - Africa

Fighting subsides in Comoros

December 8, 1998
Web posted at: 2:28 p.m. EST (1928 GMT)

MORONI, Comoros (CNN) -- Fighting on the Comoran island of Anjouan subsided Tuesday after a separatist politician's militia seized the island's capital following three days of fighting.

Telephone links to the Indian Ocean island were cut, but residents contacted by radio said troops loyal to separatist leader Chamassi Said Omar took control of the tiny port capital Mutsamudu on Monday night.

Witnesses reported looting, fires and summary executions in the town as the militia occupied it.

"Their real aim is to entirely destroy Mutsamudu," shopkeeper Mohamed Abdou said Monday.

Anjouan residents said between 40 and 60 people had been killed in machine-gun and artillery battles in the narrow streets of Mutsamudu's old town.

Omar is demanding the resignation of the island's secessionist president, Foundi Abdallah Ibrahim, who escaped a second assassination attempt in just over a week on Saturday. Both sides want independence for Anjouan, but they disagree on whether the island should try to rejoin France.

The Comoro Islands, which gained independence from France in 1975, are situated off the east coast of Africa, roughly halfway between Mozambique and the island of Madagascar at the northern end of the Mozambique channel.

The Comoran government said it had sent a ship from Grand Comore -- the archipelago's main island -- to evacuate dozens of children from Anjouan.

Foundi led the secession movement on the islands of Anjouan and Moheli in August 1997, saying mismanagement by political leaders on Grand Comore had brought poverty and political chaos.

Chamassi supports the islands' reattachment to France, which has refused to support the secessionist movement.

Chamassi fled to the French-ruled island of Mayotte on Sunday to lead the uprising from there. Foundi's whereabouts were unknown Tuesday.

The Organization of African Unity on Monday urged the warring parties to end the fighting, and called on the countries of the region to respond "positively" to the request of the Comoran government for assistance in restoring peace.

An OAU delegation planned to begin a fact-finding mission on Grand Comore on Wednesday, according to South Africa's Department of Foreign Affairs.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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