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Monday, 17 June, 2002, 12:57 GMT 13:57 UK
Troops clash in Madagascar
Mahajanga has witnessed recent violence
Mahajanga has witnessed recent violence

There have been reports of more heavy fighting on Madagascar's lush northern peninsula, between the armies of political rivals, Marc Ravalomanana and Didier Ratsiraka.

The two opposing camps have been engaged in sporadic conflict across the island's northern peninsula for some weeks now, in the wake of a number of failed initiatives by the international community to get the two men to participate in a transitional government, and end to the island's five-month political crisis.

The latest outbreak of fighting, which began on Saturday, coincides with Mr Ravalomanana's recent gesture of reconciliation; he yesterday dissolved his government, promising to open it further to moderate elements from among Mr Ratsiraka's supporters.

According to military sources the fighting is currently focussed around a bridge south of the town of Ambanja, on the eastern coast of Madagascar's northern peninsula.

Whilst, so far, only one injury has been reported in the town, where frightened residents have since Friday night remained behind closed doors, local medical sources fear the casualties on the battlefield may be far more serious, in what looks to be fast turning into a guerrilla-style conflict.

Casualties

Official sources from within the Ratsiraka camp have claimed upwards of 50 casualties from recent fighting in the region, and said that both armies are deliberately withholding accurate casualty figures.


Ratsiraka (left) and Ravalomanana
Bitter rivals

16 December 2001:
Presidential election, incumbent Didier Ratsiraka challenged by capital's mayor Marc Ravalomanana
7 January 2002:
Opposition claim rigging, begin daily protests
25 January:
Run-off ordered after inconclusive result
27 February:
Violent clashes in capital, days after Ravalomanana declares himself president
18 April:
Rivals sign peace deal in Senegal
16 May:
Ravalomanana sworn in after recount awards him victory
13 June
Ratsiraka leaves for France


In the meantime, Mr Ravalomanana's latest move to dissolve his government has been seen, not only as a means of further dividing the now crumbling opposition with the lure of more ministerial openings, but also as a way to satisfy the international community's recent calls for a more inclusive government.

A smart move, say diplomatic sources, who now claim international recognition for the new president is just around the corner.

In the past few days Mr Ravalomanana's forces have taken control of two main towns previously held by Mr Ratsiraka - including Mahajanga where violence has been reported.

Mr Ratsiraka left the country suddenly last week for France, as Mr Ravalomanana's forces were advancing.


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