Dawn invasion ends short-lived uprising

Comoros coup: Paris backs government of national unity as white 'colonel' who seized power prepares to give himself up

STEPHEN JESSEL

Paris

A six-day coup in the Indian Ocean archipelago of the Comoros ended yesterday with an invasion by hundreds of French troops and a stand-off with the French mercenary who led the uprising.

The troops, chiefly from units stationed in French territories and bases in the region but also including units flown from mainland France, landed at dawn on the main island of the archipelago, seizing two airports and the immediate surrounds of the French embassy.

The troops, which included Foreign Legion detachments from the French island of Mayotte, were supported by helicopters and warships. "Colonel" Bob Denard, the 66-year-old mercenary, freed President Said Mohamed Djohar, whom he had been holding since launching the coup lastThursday, but was still negotiating his surrender last night.

Interviewed by French television stations, Denard said he expected to give himself up today. "I'm not going to resist," he said. "I await nothing more, except to leave honourably . . . It's a question of hours."

At least three people died and 11 were injured in the French dawn assault that secured the airport, 12 miles north of Moroni, the capital, and gained the troops a foothold near the central harbour and embassy. France's decision to send troops to the Comoros - reversing an earlier declaration by the Prime Minister, Alain Juppe, that there would be no military intervention - was taken in the light of the damage the coup was doing to the future of the archipelago, French foreign-office officials said yesterday. They also attributed their about-face to the international outrage at the coup.

The intervention seems to have taken place as soon as was practically possible after the coup. The outcome of the coup - the removal from power of President Djohar - does not appear to distress Paris.

A statement from the Quai d'Orsay said that the military intervention followed a request by the Comorian Prime Minister, Caambi el Yachourtu, who sought asylum in the French embassy after the coup, invoking the defence agreement between the two countries signed in November 1978. It was Mr Yachourtu who announced an amnesty for the 400 to 700 Comorians implicated in the coup - though not for the 30 or so mercenaries led by Denard - and the establishment of a broad-based government of national unity to be formed after consultations with all parties, including those in opposition.

French officials said the aims of the intervention had been to remove the mercenaries, described as criminals, and to restore constitutional order.

The officials declined to say whether a restoration of constitutional order implied the restoration of Mr Djohar, who has only limited support among the 450,000, chiefly Muslim, inhabitants of the Comoros, preferring to emphasise their support for the new national-unity government.

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