Coup-prone Comoros leader meets with Chirac

31st January 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Jan 31 (AFP) - France and the Comoros islands said on Monday that they hoped to breathe new life into their relations, soured in recent years by political instability in the Indian Ocean archipelago.

PARIS, Jan 31 (AFP) - France and the Comoros islands said on Monday that they hoped to breathe new life into their relations, soured in recent years by political instability in the Indian Ocean archipelago.

French President Jacques Chirac and Comoros leader Azali Assoumani met in Paris on the first official visit to France by a Comoran leader since the country won independence 30 years ago.

"We talked about relations between France and the Comoros which must be rekindled and reinvigorated to a level that suits us," said Assoumani after an hour-long meeting with Chirac at the Elysee Palace.

The French leader said: "France would like to have a relationship of fraternity, cooperation and development with the Comoros," according to the presidency.

Assoumani came to power in 1999 in one of the islands' numerous coups and attempted putsches.

Despite his victory in elections in 2001, relations with France - which granted independence to the Indian Ocean archipelago in 1975 - have remained cool.

Bilateral French aid to the Comoros, which plunged from EUR 15 million to EUR 4 million (USD 19.5 million to 5.2 million) per year after 1999, has not increased and funds only small village-based projects.

Donors, particularly main benefactor France, have been reluctant to pump more assistance into the impoverished Comoros due to internal political strife, including the secession of three of the nation's larger islands: a problem Azali may now have overcome with the naming of a federal government last year.

"In serious crises, like the one in Comoros (that ended) last year, we cannot support development, but we can help the population," said Jean-Pierre Lajaunie, the French ambassador to the islands.

Yet now both Moroni and Paris are hoping the Comoros' chronic instability - exacerbated by repeated coup attempts led by notorious French mercenary Bob Denard in 1970s and 80s - is a thing of the past.

The legislative elections of 2004, which led to the creation of the federal government of the Union of the Comoros, went relatively smoothly and there is a desire "to totally reintegrate the Comoros into the community of nations," Lajaunie said.

Azali is hoping this sentiment will translate into French support for debt relief for the impoverished islands at the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, according to diplomats.

He may also see a boost in French assistance as a Franco-Comoran joint commission is to meet for the first time since 1992 in February of March.

An increase in development aid may also benefit France as deteriorating economic conditions in Comoros have resulted in increased illegal immigration to the island of Mayotte, an overseas French territory.

© AFP (combined reports)

Subject: French News

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