Madagascar military quells soldiers' mutiny

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Associated Press

Posted on July 22, 2012 at 11:00 AM

Updated Sunday, Jul 22 at 2:30 PM

ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar (AP) — A group of mutinous soldiers in Madagascar took over a military camp near the Indian Ocean island's main airport early Sunday, but were eventually driven out in an assault by government forces, the military said.

Attempts to negotiate with the mutineers had failed, and an officer sent in to start talks was shot and later died of his wounds. Several mutineers were arrested, the military said, without providing an exact number.

Another government soldier and the alleged leader of the mutiny were killed during the assault. Two fighters of each side also suffered injuries, the defense ministry said.

An Associated Press reporter at the site near Antananarivo's airport heard exchanges of gunfire throughout the afternoon, but it was not immediately clear how many soldiers had taken part in the mutiny.

Flights in and out of Antananarivo's Ivato airport were canceled. A police official said the airport won't resume operations before Monday.

The U.S. embassy in Madagascar advised U.S. citizens on its website to avoid the airport area "until the situation is resolved," urging them to "check with their airlines before commencing travel to the country."

The defense ministry said the mutiny was led by Koto Mainty, a bodyguard of former Defense Minister Noel Rakotonandrasana who was jailed after taking part in a 2010 mutiny. He was killed during the fighting.

Madagascar has been shaken by political turmoil and violence since opposition leader Andry Rajoelina ousted President Marc Ravalomanana in 2009, who now lives in exile in South Africa. Rajoelina currently leads a unity government charged with preparing for elections next year.

Ravalomanana last year was convicted in absentia of conspiracy to commit murder in a case related to the turmoil during the overthrow that forced him to leave, with a court handing him alife sentence. Ravalomanana called the tribunal illegitimate. He has tried to return to Madagascar, but so far without success.

The East Africa island is hilly and lush with a countryside of rice paddies, renowned for its rain forests that feature a rare level of biodiversity, including endemic lemurs. The country's tourism industry, however, has been badly hit by the political turmoil, further battering a nation that still features among the world's poorest countries.

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