Madagascar talks on transition pact

MAPUTO: Madagascar's marathon crisis talks pivoted Saturday around details of a transition pact to pave the way for new polls nearly five months after the fall of president Marc Ravalomanana.

Interim leader Andry Rajoelina and Ravalomanana are holding direct talks, alongside former Madagascan presidents Didier Ratsiraka and Albert Zafy, for the first time since the army handed Rajoelina power in March.

The fourth day of dialogue was pressing on behind closed doors with all four leaders and the internationally backed mediation team in the Mozambican capital, a source close to the mediation told AFP.

"We are still discussing Ravalomanana and the distribution of posts," the source said.

All previous attempts to agree on a transition charter have floundered, with talks led by the African Union and United Nations suspended in June.

This was after the leaders' groups agreed in May to "principles" for a transition and new elections.

Earlier, as talks dragged on overnight into early Saturday, a source close to the mediation said the leaders had agreed to a transition period that would lead to new elections.

"The framework of the transition has... been confirmed by the leaders but some sensitive issues remain. Who is going to lead the transition? What about the return of Ravalomanana?

"We have moved forward but some problems remain," the source said.

Talks on Friday failed to reach agreement on an amnesty for Ravalomanana, who fled Madagascar after handing power to an army, which then put Rajoelina in power after waves of protests that killed some 100 people.

The fallen leader, living in exile in South Africa, was convicted in his absence of a "conflict of interest" in the purchase of a presidential airplane and sentenced to four years in prison in June.

He requires an immunity deal to be able to return and contest the polls.

African Union mediator Ablasse Ouedraogo said after late night talks on Friday that he was confident the talks would result in a roadmap for the transition, leading to elections in 15 months.

But ahead of Saturday's talks, the Southern African Development Commmunity (SADC) executive secretary Tomaz Salomao cautioned that the vast Indian Ocean island faced old political troubles.

"When they came, they were separate, with profound, enormous differences. It would be extraordinary for 36 years of pain to be resolved in three days. Let's be cold, realistic and objective."

The island nation has become increasingly isolated since Rajoelina took power, with the international community pushing for a return to constitutional order and suspending the bulk of its aid to one of the world's poorest states.

The issue of amnesty for former president Ratsiraka was resolved on Thursday. He has been in exile in France since a succession crisis over the disputed results of a 2001 presidential election against Ravolamanana.

Ratsiraka was convicted in 2003 of misusing public funds and threatening state security. He was sentenced to 10 years of forced labour and five years in prison.