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Southern Africa pushes for Madagascar amnesty deadline

Madagascar must meet a regional deadline to finalise amnesty laws by the end of the month allowing the return of exiled former leader Marc Ravalomanana, a top South African diplomat said Sunday.

The 15-member Southern African Development Community (SADC) reiterated its stance on the island’s political stand-off after a failed bid by Ravalomanana, who was ousted by Andry Rajoelina in 2009, to return home last month.

“It’s a very clear position that we must implement the amnesty legislation, including the issue of the return of Marc Ravalomanana must be dealt with, and we will be engaging all the players around that matter now,” said deputy foreign minister Marius Fransman.

Last month, Ravalomanana tried to return to the island state but a commercial flight carrying the former leader had to turn around mid-air when Madagascan officials closed the country’s main airports, forcing his return to South Africa, where he lives in exile.

“We are saying that the amnesty laws must be finalised before the end of February and through that process then he would be able to go back,” Fransman, who is leading regional efforts to end the deadlock, told AFP after a SADC meeting.

“But the law is only supposed to be finished end of February and we are urging the Malagasy stakeholders, including President Rajoelina, to fast-track that process.”

A roadmap to new polls, signed by the island’s main political factions in November, allows the return of exiled leaders, including Ravalomanana.

The former leader was sentenced to life in prison and hard labour for the death of 30 opposition protesters killed by his presidential guard in February 2009.