MUTSAMUDU, Comoros (AFP) — The Comoran army on Monday warned residents of Anjouan to stay indoors ahead of a military assault on the rebel isle in the Indian Ocean.
A military helicopter overflew Anjouan's capital Mutsamadu and dropped leaflets that said the invasion, led by the African Union (AU), would begin "in the coming hours."
The National Development Army "informs all the residents of Anjouan that it will be in Anjouan within days or in the coming hours," read the text, also seen by AFP.
"Residents are also advised not to go far from their homes," they added, urging pupils, fishermen, traders and farmers not do their daily activities "until further notice."
Earlier, port sources said two ships with troops mandated by the AU to help the government of the Comoros, a federal union of three islands, retake Anjouan left port overnight.
Three other ships carrying mostly Tanzanian and Sudanese soldiers were preparing to steam Monday morning from Fomboni, capital of the island of Moheli.
A group of 1,500 AU troops has been based there preparing for the operation to retake Anjouan. The commanding officers however refused to divulge their destination.
The Comoros federal government did not recognise the re-election of Anjouan leader Colonel Mohamed Bacar in June 2007.
The AU troops sent to the Indian Ocean island nation practised beach landings Sunday for the operation named "Democracy in Comoros."
The African forces, who are due to back up some 400 local troops in the planned manoeuvre, had been stationed in the small island of Moheli -- the closest Comoran territory to Anjouan.
Reacting to the news that African troops were converging on Anjouan, the local cooperation minister told AFP there that Bacar's forces were ready to face the enemy.
"We have heard on the radio that AU troops and forces loyal to Comoran President Ahmed Abdallah Sambi started moving," said Mohamed Abdou Madi, one of Bacar's top aides.
"They have decided to kill but we are not afraid. We are well prepared. Our forces are ready and it's going to work," he added.
In an interview with AFP last Thursday, Bacar veered between a defiant and conciliatory tone.
"I am still determined to defend Anjouan despite my concern that people are ready to come here and fire on the Anjouanese. But I am continuing with my preparations to defend Anjouan," he said.
The Comoros army and police force has a total strength of 1,060, of whom 400 are currently stationed in Moheli -- an hour by sea from Anjouan.
Bacar only has some 300 troops at hand.
Comoran central authorities meanwhile appeared to be in no mood to give Bacar a second chance.
"Colonel Bacar will be arrested if he does not flee and will face Comoran courts for treason, usurpation of power, torture and war crimes, as documented by complaints which Anjouanese victims have filed," Comoran Vice President Idi Nadhoim said.
Several witnesses have told AFP of cases of torture on Anjouan under Bacar's rule.
"After the operation on Anjouan and the restoration of constitutional order, there will be a transitional government, which will have to swiftly organise elections to be held in May," Nadhoim added.
Tanzanian Foreign Minister Bernard Membe, whose country currently chairs the AU, said the operation would comprise about 1,800 soldiers.
The fractious archipelago has survived 19 coups or coup attempts since it acquired independence from France in 1975.
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