AU officials meet on Madagascar peace plan

Marc Ravalomanana faces life in prison in Madagascar after being sentenced in absentia.

Addis Ababa: African Union officials opened talks on Wednesday to approve a plan to help Madagascar hold elections and end a political crisis that has dragged on for more than two years.

The roadmap was last month endorsed by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) which is mediating in Madagascar`s political deadlock sparked by the March 2009 toppling of president Marc Ravalomanana.

However, Ravalomanana, in exile in South Africa, and two former presidents have refused to sign off on the deal which has been hobbled by disagreements over the deposed leader`s plans to return home.

"The current President is not in favour of that," AU Peace and Security commissioner Ramtane Lamamra said, referring to Ravalomanana`s return.

Ravalomanana faces life in prison in Madagascar after being sentenced in absentia for the killing of demonstrators by his presidential guard during the protests that led to his overthrow.

A Madagascar embassy official in Kenya said that his country reserves the right to reject the document.

"It is not going to be dictated by the SADC," said Abel Rakotomalala, the honorary consul.

The roadmap would also make strongman Andry Rajoelina, president of a transitional government, tasked with steering the country to new elections.

However, an AU spokesman voiced optimism the meeting between officials of the pan-African bloc`s Peace and Security Council and the SADC will approve the agreement.

The 15-nation SADC has previously been unable to convince Rajoelina, who took power with the Army`s backing, to sign power-sharing deals reached in August 2009.

Rajoelina`s own initiatives to end the crisis have been unsuccessful and he has failed to secure domestic and international support.

International isolation since the 2009 coup has devastated Madagascar`s economy. The country lost EUR 600 million a year of European Union aid and growth shrank to two percent in 2010 from 7.1 percent in 2008.

Bureau Report

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