ANJOUAN, COMOROS - Residents on the Comoros island of Anjouan slowly returned to their daily lives Sunday after a six-day siege in the old quarter of Mutsamudu city where soldiers had fought with rebels down narrow lanes.
The island’s governor, Abdou Salami Abdou, a member of the opposition Juwa party, surrendered to the police, and rejected any “link whatsoever with the rebels.
“I have never known them, I have never armed these people,” he told AFP.
“I challenge anyone to prove my involvement,” Abdou, a fierce critic of President Azali Assoumani, said, adding that peaceful protests against the Comoros government had been infiltrated by militants.
The army said it had regained control of the medina quarter on Saturday in the latest bout of instability to rock the coup-prone Indian Ocean archipelago. At least three people were killed in a week of violence.
Anjouan’s port re-opened Sunday after being closed for several days. Soldiers searched homes for suspected rebels, but no arrests were reported.
Supermarket owner Mohamed Adinane said he had come “to check the condition of my store, to see if there were any breakages.”
“I found expired products because of the power cuts,” he said, explaining he had lost a lot of money. “It’s a shame but what can we do?”
Military checkpoints were still in place around the medina and most streets were deserted. Stones and teargas cannisters littered the ground after the week of clashes.
Residents, who had been cut off without power or water during the stand-off, emerged on balconies on Boulevard Mohamed Ahmed seeking updates on the security situation.
A senior officer advised people to stay in their homes, saying “You never know until you are 100 percent sure that there is no risk from rebels.”
Some locals expressed skepticism over whether the rebels had been vanquished by the military in an apparently peaceful operation on Saturday.
One elderly man, who declined to be named, asked “how were these rebels able to melt away with their weapons and belongings when the medina was completely surrounded?”
“The government was tricked,” he said before closing his door.
Tensions in Comoros have mounted in recent months as Assoumani bids to extend term limits through constitutional changes that could see him rule for 11 more years.
Assoumani won a widely criticized referendum in July allowing him to scrap the rotation of the presidency between Comoros’ three main islands, disadvantaging opposition-leaning Anjouan, which was next in line.
The president, who came to power in a military coup and was elected in 2016, has indicated that he plans to stage polls next year which would allow him to reset his term limits and theoretically rule until 2029.
The Comoros islands — Anjouan, Grande Comore and Moheli — are located between Mozambique and Madagascar.
They have endured years of grinding poverty and political turmoil, including about 20 coups or attempted coups, since independence from France in 1975.
The last coup was in 1999 when Assoumani, then the head of the army, seized power for the first time.
He gave up power in 2006 before being elected two years ago.
The fourth Comoros island, Mayotte, remains French.
Assoumani’s government accuses the opposition Juwa party of being behind the unrest on Anjouan.
Former president Ahmed Abdallah Sambi who leads Juwa, is from Anjouan. He has been under house arrest since May on corruption charges.