UN envoy says Madagascar risks further conflict

The crisis in Madagascar could grow worse and the country’s new leader should hold elections to set up a legitimate government, the UN special envoy to the Indian Ocean island said on Tuesday.
Political turmoil has racked Madagascar since the start of 2009. More than 135 people have been killed, the $390 million tourism sector is crippled and foreign companies are wary of investing in the island’s rich oil and mineral resources, Reuters reports.
The violence has stopped since Andry Rajoelina, 34, became Africa’s newest president last week. His opposition movement and some army chiefs forced Marc Ravalomanana from office after weeks of anti-government demonstrations in the capital.
But supporters of the former president are now demonstrating in Antananarivo against the seizure of power, which leaders from Africa, Europe and America have condemned as a coup.
Ravalomanana is now in Swaziland and held talks on Tuesday with the Swazi king ahead of a meeting of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) next week to discuss the crisis.
The African Union has suspended Madagascar and SADC leaders are expected to consider slapping sanctions on Rajoelina’s fledgling administration when they meet on Monday.
Haile Menkerios, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s envoy, told Reuters the new administration should now hold a national conference to resolve the situation.
“There’s a threat, really now, of the conflict increasing and for more people actually to die and that would be a great concern for the secretary-general,” Menkerios told Reuters on the sidelines of a meeting in Zanzibar. 
We hear that the president is under threat and he is in hiding, that members of the former government have also been threatened and harassed, so it just looks like the whole situation is just turned over now and that is as dangerous as the previous situation,” he said.
Analysts say Rajoelina remains vulnerable to splits within the army and among the Madagascan people as the international community takes a tough stance against his rise to power.
The country’s army chief, however, said the military was united behind Rajoelina and warned he would take steps against anyone spreading rumours of divisions within the ranks.
Colonel Andre Ndriarijaona, who helped Rajoelina oust Ravalomanana, said the army’s sole aim was to restore law and order after the weeks of civil unrest.
“It’s not true that some regiments are against the current regime. The army is united behind me and under my command,” Ndriarijaona told reporters at his office.
Ravalomanana handed over power to the military top brass last week. They in turn conferred power on Rajoelina.
“You don’t cooperate with those who make coups,” said Menkerios, the UN envoy.
“The engagement of the secretary-general of the UN will be to continue in pushing in the direction of a smooth transition, a short transition, towards elections which will be the basis of a legitimate government,” he said in an interview. 
About 2000 Ravalomanana supporters held a rally for the second consecutive day in a city centre park to condemn what they see as an unconstitutional seizure of power.
“We want to see the re-establishment of all democratic institutions in Madagascar, from the president to parliament. Then you will choose between Ravalomanana and the one whose name I won’t mention,” said Raharinaivo Andrianantoandro, spokesman for the former president’s political party.
The new government has also unnerved foreign investors by saying it may review contracts if the economic climate improves, revising deals not in the public interest.
Ratings agency Standard and Poor’s has cut Madagascar to B- with a negative outlook and S&P analyst Konrad Reuss told Reuters the country risked further action.
“The new rating is already very low,” Reuss said. “We are already seeing a considerable risk of default on bilateral obligations. Any moves against foreign investors would be negative for creditworthiness.”