Moroni - Bob Denard, one of the world's most notorious mercenaries, yesterday overthrew the government of the Comoros Islands.
The president, Said Mohamed Djohar, was reportedly being held prisoner. Armed men occupied the airport and the government radio station and a dozen Europeans were said to have been seen in the streets, some in army uniform. Mercenaries later launched a fierce attack on the country's main police station.
The Interior Minister, Said Ali Mohammed Allaoui, asked France, the former colonial power, to send in troops. The minister, on a private visit to France, said in Paris: "We are asking for the implementation of military defence agreements. Diplomatic and political condemnations are not enough."
He noted that France maintained troops on Mayotte, a largely Christian island which opted to remain a French territory in 1975 when the mostly Muslim islands of Grande Comore, Anjouan and Moheli declared independence.
Denard, 66, a former French marine, is a veteran of African and Middle East conflicts and coups, but was said to have "retired" two years ago. He has admitted having carried out covert operations for countries including France, Belgium, South Africa, Morocco and Gabon, and was sentenced in France two years ago to a five-year suspended jail term for a 1977 attempted coup in Benin.
Denard - real name Gilbert Bourgeaud - saw service in French colonial wars in Indo-China and Algeria. He served in the police in Morocco and embarked on his career as a mercenary in 1961 after seeing a small advert seeking recruits for the Congo (now Zaire).
He fought for secessionists in Katanga before serving with royalist forces in North Yemen and then fighting for the secessionist state of Biafra, in Nigeria. He also trained mercenaries for operations on behalf of Unitain Angola, for secessionists in Angola's Cabinda province and in the then Rhodesia.
In May, 1978, Denard, who has two children from his marriage to a Comoran woman, overthrew the then Comoro president, Ali Soilih, killed later that month "while trying to escape". Denard brought back to power President Ahmed Abdallah, the Comoros' founding president, but he became de facto ruler as head of the presidential guard, which was financed by South Africa.
In November, 1989, Abdallah was shot dead. The killing was never explained but Denard was forced out of the islands.