25th July, 2012
Madagascan leader Andry Rajoelina and the man he toppled in 2009, Marc Ravalomanana, met Wednesday on a remote Seychelles island to force a breakthrough in reconciliation efforts.
“The face-to-face talks between the Madagascan transitional president and his predecessor began this morning on the island of Desroches,” a Seychelles government official said.
The pair met alongside South African President Jacob Zuma, a key mediator in the talks, which are being held on a private beach paradise island some 230 kilometres (140 miles) from the Indian Ocean archipelago’s main island, Mahe.
The 15-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC), which is mediating in the talks, has set a July 31 deadline for the rivals to settle their differences, so that a timetable for elections can be unveiled next week under a deal signed last year.
Seychelles President James Michel also attended the meeting, which is expected to close later Wednesday.
The Indian Ocean island of Madagascar has been mired in political crisis since Rajoelina ousted Ravalomanana in March 2009 with the army’s support.
Rajoelina, a former disc jockey who was only 34 when he seized power — and who had to change the constitution to become eligible for the top job in future polls — has failed to garner broad international backing.
Rajoelina and Ravalomanana last year signed a “roadmap” toward elections, but the deal has yet to be fully implemented.
The two men have already held talks among the country’s main political groups since the ouster of Ravalomanana by Rajoelina, a former mayor of the capital Antananarivo. But they have previously avoided a one-on-one meeting.
Their subordinates have inked several pacts but have yet to find a permanent solution to the three-year crisis engulfing Africa’s largest island.
One of the main stumbling blocks is to establish conditions for Ravalomanana’s eventual return from his exile in South Africa.
The roadmap signed in September provides for his return home without conditions, but he has twice tried and failed to return to Madagascar.
Moreover, parliament has passed a law which bars people with criminal records from running for office and demands that any presidential aspirants must have paid their taxes in full, effectively excluding Ravalomanana.
In 2010, Ravalomanana was sentenced in absentia to life in prison and hard labour for the murders of around 30 demonstrators, killed by his presidential guard in 2009 protests that led to his overthrow.
“A return to stability in Madagascar is crucial for all the countries in our southern and eastern Africa and Indian Ocean region,” President Michel said in a speech Tuesday.
He warned that the island nation, where millions “are sinking into extreme poverty” could be facing a “social catastrophe.”