Azali Assoumani. Picture: REUTERS/CARLO ALLEGRI
Azali Assoumani. Picture: REUTERS/CARLO ALLEGRI

 Anjouan — Residents on the Comoros island of Anjouan slowly returned to their daily lives on Sunday after a six-day siege in the old quarter of Mutsamudu city, where soldiers had fought with rebels in the narrow lanes.

The military said it had taken control of the medina quarter on Saturday, after the latest bout of instability on the coup-prone Indian Ocean archipelago claimed three lives.

Anjouan’s port reopened after being closed for several days, and soldiers patrolled the streets as local people emerged from their homes.

Some expressed scepticism over whether the armed rebels, who are opposed to President Azali Assoumani, had been removed by the military in an apparently peaceful operation on Saturday.

Military checkpoints were still in place around the medina, and most streets were deserted. Stones and teargas canisters
littered some areas after the week of clashes. Residents, who were without power or water during the stand-off, emerged on balconies on Boulevard Mohamed Ahmed seeking updates on the situation.

A senior officer advised people to avoid the medina’s main square, saying: "You never know until you are 100% sure that there is no risk from rebels."

One elderly man, who declined to be named, asked: "How were these rebels able to melt away with their weapons and luggage when the medina was completely surrounded? The government was tricked," he said, before closing his door.

Tensions have mounted in recent months as Assoumani bids to extend term limits through constitutional changes that could see him rule for 11 more years.

Assoumani won a widely criticised referendum in July. The government had sent in reinforcements after about 40 rebels erected barricades in the old quarter of Mutsamudu.

The president, who came to power in a military coup and was elected in 2016, has indicated that he plans to stage polls in 2019 which would allow him to reset his term limits and theoretically rule until 2029.

The Comoros islands — Anjouan, Grande Comore and Moheli — are located between Mozambique and Madagascar.

They have endured years of poverty and political turmoil, including about 20 coups or attempted coups, since independence from France in  1975.