By Ahmed Ali Amir and Ed Harris
MORONI, Feb 28 (Reuters) - African Union troops will arrive in Comoros in days to help the federal government wrestle back control of a renegade island, an AU official has said.
Tensions have been rising across the coup-prone Indian Ocean archipelago since Mohamed Bacar, self-declared leader of Anjouan island, announced his victory in an illegal election last June.
The federal government demanded he step down and is preparing to invade. The AU slapped sanctions on Bacar and his allies in October, then agreed last week to send troops too.
"Within a few days you will begin to see our soldiers arriving here in Moroni," the AU’s special envoy to Comoros, Francesco Madeira, told national radio late on Wednesday.
Madeira said he had just returned from visiting Anjouan with officials from the Arab League, France and the United States.
He said he had offered Bacar a chance to leave the island in peace, but that the rebel leader had rejected the proposal.
"We want to avoid, to minimise as much as possible, the damage, collateral effects and the suffering of the population," the envoy said.
The AU said on Monday that last ditch talks with Anjouan’s leaders had failed and that military action was the only option.
Comoros’ top military officer told Reuters earlier this week that his forces were ready to assault the island with or without the promised AU help from Sudan, Senegal, Libya and Tanzania. But he said the presence of hundreds more foreign troops in any invasion force could reduce Bacar’s will to resist — and hopefully reduce casualties overall.
Sudan and Senegal are expected to provide 600 and 150 soldiers respectively. Tanzania already has 200 troops in Comoros as part of an AU election monitoring mission. Libya is set to provide logistical support.
A steady trickle of refugees have continued to leave Anjouan in recent days, many telling of fears of the imminent fighting, as well as poverty and political repression on the small isle.
Sitting in a wheelchair after fleeing, his feet badly swollen, 29-year-old Abidi Ben Chaihame said he was arrested and beaten on Anjouan last week after he was overheard talking about Comoros’ federal President Ahmed Abdallah Mohamed Sambi.
"They put me on the ground, my hands were already tied behind me. They beat the soles of my feet," he said. "They don’t want people to talk about Sambi. I’m a supporter of Sambi."
Lying off Africa’s east coast with a total population of around 700,000, the Comoros is a fragile state that been weighed down by a turbulent history of coups and inter-island rivalry.
First settled by Arab seafarers about 1,000 years ago, the tropical archipelago later became a haven for pirates. It has been independent from France since 1975. (Writing by Daniel Wallis, editing by Philippa Fletcher)