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Thursday, 20 June, 2002, 10:58 GMT 11:58 UK
'Mercenaries' back in France
OAU delegation in Antananarivo earlier this year
The two sides are expected to hold OAU-brokered talks on Friday
A plane carrying 12 suspected mercenaries arrived back in France from Tanzania last night, after being intercepted on its way to Madagascar, the French news agency AFP reports.

The men, all believed to be French nationals, walked away free after their aircraft, which had been expected in Paris, landed in Lyon, according to anunidentified source quoted by the agency.

Marc Ravalomanana
Ravalomanana's government wants to rid Africa of coups
Meanwhile, Marc Ravalomanana's government in Madagascar has said it will take legal action against the suspected mercenaries.

Aides to Didier Ratsiraka, Marc Ravalomanana's rival, said that the men in question were "personnel specialised in security training for public events", AFP says.

Mr Ratsiraka, who was president for more than two decades, left Madagascar for France last week after months of political instability following a disputed presidential election last December.

Ratsiraka return

Togolese President Gnassingbe Eyadema told AFP that Mr Ratsiraka had told him he would travel back home by the end of this week to press for a second round in the presidential election.

The Falcon 900 jet had left Paris on Tuesday and was on its way to Madagascar when it was prevented from leaving Dar es Salaam airport where it had stopped over to refuel.

On Wednesday afternoon, the French Foreign Ministry said it had intervened with the Tanzanian authorities to stop the plane in its tracks.

"As soon as we heard that a private plane carrying passengers with suspicious intentions was flying towards Madagascar, we took the appropriate measures to prevent the flight, in liaison with the African authorities concerned," French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said.

Didier Ratsiraka
Ratsiraka's camp denies involvement with the alleged mercenaries

"This affair, and the information at my disposal now, lead me to point out that France strongly condemns such actions, and will not tolerate its territory being used for operations of this type," he added.

But a few hours earlier the Ministry had denied any involvement in the incident.

"I understand that we are talking about a private aircraft, therefore we do not have any comments to make... For us, beyond what will probably turn out to be a minor event, the priority is still to deal with the situation in Madagascar," Mr Valero had told AFP.

Sue

Marc Ravalomanana's government has said that it will sue the 12 men "in cooperation with the authorities in their country of origin, the country where they were arrested, and any other country likely to be implicated under international law and relevant conventions".

It thanked the Tanzanian authorities and others for their help and reiterated "the wish and desire of Madagascar to rid the African continent of terrorism and anti-democratic coups d'etat".

An aide to Didier Ratsiraka, Jose Andrianoelison, told the BBC's French service that "Madagascar does not need mercenaries to restore peace".

The two sides are supposed to take part on Friday in talks organised by the Organisation of African Unity to try to resolve the conflict.

The BBC's Jonny Donovan in the Madagascan capital, Antananarivo, said that neither side was willing to say whether the incident with the alleged mercenaries would have an impact on their participation.


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