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Madagascan ruler Andry Rajoelina and the man he toppled in 2009, Marc Ravalomanana, hold their second round of talks on Wednesday in a bid to end a bitter deadlock in the protracted crisis.
The first round of talks two weeks ago, under the aegis of the 15-nation Southern African Development Community, ended without a resolution and failed to ease tension between the two.
Instead, hostilities escalated when days after the talks, Ravalomanana's wife tried to return home and was immediately deported.
Reaching a deal on the conditions of Ravalomanana's return is one of the main obstacles to lifting the impoverished nation out of its dragging political crisis.
Rajoelina on Tuesday said Ravalomanana was entitled to return home, but that did not preclude him from prosecution.
“He has the right to return,” under the provisions of a roadmap to peace which allows “the unconditional return of political exile... but does not suggest returnee Madagascan citizens are exempt from prosecution”.
Following his ouster, Ravalomanana was convicted in absentia for the killing of demonstrators by his presidential guard during protests that led to his overthrow. Thirty-six people were killed and hundreds wounded.
“The problem is that there are some who are unable to rise above their egos, and I am speaking of former president Marc Ravalomanana, who believes the end of the crisis will come with his return,” said Richard Victor Tsiebo Mahaleo, a lawmaker and ally of Rajoelina.
“Ravalomanana is not above the law, whether he is a former president or not. If he returns, he must be arrested,” insisted Mahaleo.
Ravalomanana, exiled in South Africa, still hopes to return home to run for elections set for May 8 next year.
But Rajoelina took a hard line ahead of the talks, ruling out Ravalomanana from the next elections in Africa's largest island.
“He has already been convicted, so he no longer has full rights to run for president,” he told reporters on Tuesday.
In a statement on Tuesday, Ravalomanana dismissed his conviction by a “kangaroo court” which staged a “show trial against me”.
Although Ravalomanana and Rajoelina last year signed a “roadmap” towards elections, the deal has yet to be fully implemented.
The two are racing against time, expected to settle their differences ahead of the August 17 summit of SADC heads of states to take place in the Mozambican capital Maputo.
“An agreement between the two will not bring a solution to the overall problem. There have been meetings before, they have gone nowhere,” said Jean Marcel Miandrisoa, head of the opposition alliance movement of former president Albert Zafy.
“The problem is not only between Rajoelina and Marc Ravalomanana, this is a problem that transcends beyond them. An agreement between the two is only one step,” he said. - Sapa-AFP