April 8, 2009 / 6:51 AM / 11 years ago

African Union wants Madagascar contact group

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - The African Union said on Tuesday it wanted to set up an international contact group to ensure countries took a common position in pushing for a return to constitutional order in Madagascar.

The head of the African Union Jean Ping speaks at a press conference after meeting Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir in his first official visit to Khartoum, May 18, 2008. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin

The African Union’s top diplomat, Jean Ping, said the 53-member body did not support the electoral plan agreed by Madagascar’s transition at a conference last week.

“(It) did not take place in conditions conducive to the forging of a national consensus on the modalities for the return to constitutional order and in a manner that would elicit the support of the AU,” he said.

The two-day conference agreed to hold presidential elections in October 2010 after a series of steps this year, such as reforming the electoral code and changing the constitution.

The party of former President Marc Ravalomanana boycotted the talks, which were attended by supporters of Madagascar’s new leader, Andry Rajoelina, church and military leaders and members of civil society.

Rajoelina came to power last month when Ravalomanana stepped aside following intense pressure from the opposition and army chiefs in the Indian Ocean island.

CONTACT GROUP

Foreign leaders branded the transition a coup and have called for quick elections to restore constitutional order. Madagascar has been suspended from the African Union and the Southern African Development Community.

Ravalomanana fled to Swaziland. He has denied resigning and pledged to return to Madagascar soon.

Ping urged African states and other partners to refrain from any action “likely to reinforce the illegality in Madagascar.”

“In this regard, (Ping) has initiated consultations for the early formation, under the aegis of the AU, of an International Contact Group to better coordinate the efforts of the international community for the rapid return to constitutional order in Madagascar,” the statement said.

The U.N. Security Council, in a discussion of Madagascar in New York on Tuesday, took no position on the electoral plan but urged a quick return to constitutional order through a transition based on consensus, a senior U.N. official said.

“Whether that consensus leads to asking Ravalomanana to come, or the current government to continue, or to come up with another arrangement, it is up to those parties to decide,” Haile Menkerios, a U.N. envoy to Madagascar, told reporters. “I don’t think anybody is dictating anything to them.”

Ravalomanana met Ping and AU Peace and Security Commissioner Ramtane Lamamra in Addis Ababa earlier on Tuesday to discuss the situation in Madagascar. Lamamra told Reuters Ravalomanana would also be meeting AU ambassadors from a number of African nations.

Despite widespread international condemnation, few donor countries have suspended development aid to the island, where many eke out a living on less than $2 a day.

Madagascar argues that as the country’s high constitutional court sanctioned the transition it was legal and the people should not be punished by the international community.

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