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Thursday, 2 May, 2002, 22:43 GMT 23:43 UK
OAU envoys begin Madagascar talks
Destroyed bridge near Fianarantsoa
Bridges leading to the capital have been destroyed
A delegation from the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) has met the incumbent leader of Madagascar, Didier Ratsiraka, in his stronghold, Tamatave, as it tries to resolve the four-month old crisis over the country's presidency.

The governor of Tamatave has declared that he considers his province to be independent, increasing fears of a violent power struggle on the island.

We are carrying a message from the international community to try to contribute to the implementation of the Dakar agreement

OAU envoy Cheikh Tidiane Gadio
The seven OAU diplomats, including three African foreign ministers, have now gone to meet the rival president, Marc Ravalomanana, in the capital, Antananarivo.

It is hoped that a compromise that the two men had reached in the Senegal capital, Dakar, can be revived.

Senegalese Foreign Minister Cheikh Tidiane Gadio, who is part of the OAU mission, said: "We are all Africans. All my delegation, and all our brothers and sisters from Madagascar, are frankly believers that the Dakar Accord can help in this situation."

Claims of bias

The BBC's Alistair Leithead, in Tamatave, says it is clear that other agreements were made behind the scenes during the Dakar Accord and it is these the OAU must sort out before this crisis is resolved.

The agreement came under severe strain when Madagascar's High Constitutional Court awarded Mr Ravalomanana the presidency after a recount of the December election.

Mr Ratsiraka has called the court's decision a flagrant violation of the Dakar Accord. He says the judges were biased against him.

Since January, Madagascar has been split down the middle, with two governments, two capitals and a divided army.

The governors of four of the six provinces - who support Mr Ratsiraka - have announced plans to secede from the capital and form an independent confederation.

Tamatave made a declaration of independence on Thursday, although our correspondent says it was more like a political rally.

The governor declared he considered his province to be independent, even if legally he couldn't break away entirely from the country and create his own state.

In his first statement since last week's recount, Mr Ratsiraka said an unwritten agreement had been made, that Mr Ravalomanana "should not win the recount", and that there should be a run-off - or referendum - between the two contenders.

Didier Ratsiraka
Ratsiraka is based in his hometown of Tamatave
The dispute between the two men centres on whether Mr Ravalomanana won December's election outright.

Mr Ratsiraka says the opposition candidate and mayor of Antananarivo did not get an absolute majority, and there should be a second round of balloting - as official results released in January suggested.

But Mr Ravalomanana has always contested this, and declared himself president in February.

About 35 people have been killed since the dispute began and the economy of the island has been crippled

Supporters of Mr Ratsiraka have already destroyed five bridges on supply routes into Antananarivo.

They have also mounted roadblocks in an attempt to starve the capital of vital goods.

See also:

01 May 02 | Africa
Madagascar inauguration delayed
26 Apr 02 | Africa
Split threat in Madagascar
23 Apr 02 | Africa
Madagascar governors stand firm
22 Apr 02 | Africa
Madagascar recount begins
18 Apr 02 | Africa
Madagascar rivals sign peace deal
17 Apr 02 | Africa
Madagascar court annuls election
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