South Africa urges Madagascar crisis talks

JOHANNESBURG Sat Jun 20, 2009 9:23pm EDT

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Southern African leaders will speed up their efforts to help restore political order in Madagascar after internationally mediated talks on the island collapsed.

Southern African Development Community Executive Secretary Tomaz Salomao said on Sunday the group had appointed former Mozambican president Joaquim Chissano to lead the dialogue, involving the SADC, the African Union, the United Nations, the International Organization of the Francophonie (IOF) and all the Malagasy political actors.

Southern African leaders suspended Madagascar from the SADC in March, saying they would not recognize Andry Rajoelina, who took power in a move condemned as a coup by the international community.

Rajoelina, 35, came to power in March when President Marc Ravalomanana stepped aside after pressure from the opposition and army chiefs.

Ravalomanana, who fled to southern Africa and was present at the summit venue, insists he remains the legitimate leader of the Indian Ocean island and has rejected sharing power with Rajoelina.

The African economic bloc COMESA said earlier this month a military intervention to restore constitutional order on the island could be an option but SADC said it would insist on a peaceful solution to the situation.

"The route we are trying to pursue is to get everyone to talk and then finally come to a conclusion...let's keep a peace process ... we are using other strategies to move faster," Swaziland's King Mswati III said.

SADC chairman, South African President Jacob Zuma, said on Saturday the grouping was hopeful of a resolution to political turmoil, which has wrought havoc on the island's $390-million-a-year tourism sector and unnerved foreign companies investing in its booming oil and mineral sectors.

"We believe that peace will be achieved if all parties to the conflict are committed to the process," Zuma said.

SADC mediators reported back during the course of the meeting after the African Union and United Nations suspended talks indefinitely citing a lack of political will.

"The summit expressed serious concern on the deteriorating political situation in Madagascar mainly characterized by exacerbating hostility among the different political groups," Salomao said, citing the final communique.

U.N. mediator Tiebile Drame said the summit had managed to bring the process a step forward.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe also attended the event, but the question of Zimbabwe did not feature on the agenda.

"Zimbabwe is on the right track and things are moving in the right direction," King Mswati III said.

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