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Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
06ANTANANARIVO1122
2006-10-06 11:35:00
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Antananarivo
Cable title:  

TEST-RETURNING EXILE RAISES TENSION IN MADAGASCAR

Tags:   ASEC  CASC  MA  PGOV  PREL 
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VZCZCXYZ0001
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHAN #1122/01 2791135
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 061135Z OCT 06
FM AMEMBASSY ANTANANARIVO
TO AMEMBASSY ANTANANARIVO 0087
						C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 ANTANANARIVO 001122 

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR S/ES-O
DEPARTMENT FOR AF/E - MBEYZEROV
DEPARTMENT FOR CA/OCS/ACS/AF - DONLON
PARIS FOR AFRICA WATCHER

E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/06/2016
TAGS: ASEC CASC MA PGOV PREL
SUBJECT: TEST-RETURNING EXILE RAISES TENSION IN MADAGASCAR


ANTANANARI 00001122 001.3 OF 002


Classified By: CLASSIFIED BY DCM GEORGE N. SIBLEY FOR REASONS 1.4 B AND

D.



1. (C) SUMMARY. The planned return to Madagascar of an
exiled political leader,
Pierrot Rajaonarivelo, has the potential to trigger unrest in
some parts of the country.
Rajaonarivelo, a former Vice Prime Minister and the Secretary
General of the AREMA
Party, has been tried and sentenced in absentia for crimes
arising in part from his role in
the 2001-2002 crisis following the last presidential
elections. He is expected to be
arrested on his arrival if he returns -- as he has told his
supporters he will -- on Saturday,
October 7. END SUMMARY.



2. (SBU) With presidential elections set for December 3,
2006, the leading opposition
AREMA Party has requested amnesty for its exiled leaders to
return from France to
Madagascar to contest the election. Rajaonarivelo has headed
AREMA since 1997 when
Didier Ratsiraka was elected president and was
constitutionally required to relinquish his
political post. Rajaonarivelo served as Vice Prime Minister
in charge of Budget and
Decentralization during Ratsiraka's term (1997-2002). Former
President Ratsiraka is
also in exile in France, but he is elderly and retains modest
political support;
Rajaonarivelo is the preferred AREMA candidate.



3. (SBU) President Ravalomanana has said publicly that the
exiles are welcome to
return, but must face the judicial consequences if they do
so. In March 2003,
Rajaonarivelo was tried and sentenced in absentia to 5 years
imprisonment for complicity
and abuse of power. After appeal the sentence was reduced to
three years in May 2005,
an outcome that has again been appealed by Rajaonarivelo's
legal team. In a separate
case, Rajaonarivelo was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor
for embezzlement in August
2006; his legal team chose not to be present at this trial to
preserve the right to protest the
legality of the sentence. The government's position is that
Rajaonarivelo should be jailed
pending the outcome of his appeal; AREMA claims that the
sentence was unjust and
politically motivated, and that he should be free pending the
outcome of the appeal in any
case.



4. (C) AREMA scheduled a three-day national conference in
the coastal city of
Toamasina (also known by the French name Tamatave) for
October 7-9. Our AREMA
contacts report that Rajaonarivelo has left Paris and flown
to the Indian Ocean island of
Reunion on October 6, and that he will fly into Toamasina
from Reunion on the afternoon
of October 7. French Ambassador Le Roy called the Ambassador
October 5 confirming
this report. Our contacts in the Madagascar police tell us
500 troops have already been
positioned in Toamasina and that a designated team has been
instructed to meet the plane
and arrest Rajaonarivelo on arrival. The arresting officer,
who is known to us, is
concerned that there may be a large crowd meeting
Rajaonarivelo and that there might be
significant potential for violence if he carries out his
orders. He has apparently told his
superiors that he will not carry out these orders if the
situation appears likely to spin out
of control. Separately, President Ravalomanana's Chief of
Staff (protect) has told us that
if Rajaonarivelo is on board, the flight is likely to be
diverted to Antananarivo to effect
the arrest away from the AREMA supporters.



5. (C) Earlier this week Rajaonarivelo wrote to President
Chirac seeking French
intervention on his behalf with President Ravalomanana. He
reportedly mentioned the
risk of imminent trouble and repression if he were arrested.
In particular, he expressed

ANTANANARI 00001122 002 OF 002


concern that he could not prevent the "cotiers" (coastal
inhabitants) from seeking revenge
against the Merina (the dominant ethnic group on the high
plateau). Several AREMA
sympathizing newspapers have published paid full-page
advertisements in advance of
Rajaonarivelo's expected return. In them Rajaonarivelo
requests, in a lightly veiled
threat, that the military forces stand aside, "the blood of
the Malagasy people should not
be shed with your weapon." The paid ad also states: "In
fact, if there is no freedom, it
would be impossible to meet the hopes of the U.S. Embassy for
a free and fair election."
Many of our Malagasy contacts, disputing the French
Ambassador's public claims of
neutrality, believe the French Government is covertly
supporting Rajaonarivelo in his
effort to oust President Ravalomanana.



6. (SBU) The Emergency Action Committee met to discuss the
potential for violence
over the weekend and the Consular Section is preparing a
warden message (Septel).



7. (C) COMMENT. Politically, President Ravalomanana's
popularity has declined since
the 2001 election, but the AREMA Party's base of support, due
to its own poor record
when governing, is weaker still. Rajaonarivelo and AREMA
have raised the stakes
irresponsibly by playing the ethnic card. Tensions between
the coastal and highland
people in Madagascar have a long history and playing on this
division, if successful, risks
turning a political contest into a quasi-ethnic conflict.
END COMMENT.
MCGEE