Comoros rebel isle dismisses sanctions, wants talks

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MORONI, Oct 11 (Reuters) The leaders of a rebellious Comorian island dismissed economic sanctions imposed by the African Union and today called for fresh talks to resolve the Indian Ocean archipelago's political crisis.

A six-month impasse over disputed elections on the breakaway island of Anjouan has brought a new round of instability to Comoros, which has endured 19 successful or attempted coups since independence from France in 1975.

''We refuse to be humiliated ... Our position does not vary. We want a conference where all Comorian parties will be invited,'' Anjouan Transport Minister Abdou Madi told Reuters.

He was responding after the African Union yesterday slapped sanctions on top Anjouan officials that include a travel ban, the freezing of funds and restriction of air and sea links.

The AU said it was following recommendations by regional ministers who had urged it to take action against Anjouan -- one of Comoros' three main islands -- where local president Mohamed Bacar has defied national authorities since May.

Back then, federal troops tried unsuccessfully to take control of Anjouan buildings and install a replacement president as mandated by a court. Several soldiers died in the clashes.

The federal government of President Ahmed Abdallah Mohamed Sambi, an Islamic imam-turned-politician, has since threatened to re-invade Anjouan and has appealed for AU military help.

The African Union says its sanctions will be applied for 45 days first, before it considers ''further measures''.

A federal government spokesman welcomed the move.

But Madi, the Anjouan minister, said the pan-African body has overstepped its authority as a mediator in the stand-off.

''The African Union missed its role,'' he said by telephonefrom Anjouan. ''Neither rifles nor violence will contribute to the cultivation of peace in Africa, on the contrary.'' The rocky Comoros islands, which lie off east Africa, retain some autonomy through local leaderships under the terms of a 2001 peace deal, but also share a rotating national president.

First settled by Arab seafarers about 1,000 years ago, and later serving as a haven for pirates pillaging Indian Ocean shipping, the islands, which have a population of about 700,000, were annexed by France in 1904.

Reuters AE GC1550

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