Victoria, Madagascar - Rivals for Madagascar's presidency, in talks to end political turmoil, failed to agree terms under which the island's former leader could return from self-imposed exile, officials at the talks said on Thursday.
Madagascar has been in crisis since 2009 when then-opposition leader Andry Rajoelina ousted president Marc Ravalomanana, who was sentenced in absentia to life in prison for the killings of demonstrators by elite troops in the coup.
Rajoelina has agreed with Ravalomanana that he could return but that he would face imprisonment. He flew to meet Ravalomanana in South Africa on Monday hours after the Madagascan army quelled a mutiny in a barracks near the capital's airport.
The impoverished Indian Ocean island's mainstay tourism industry has suffered badly from years of turmoil and foreign companies have been wary of committing to investment in its oil, gold and chrome and nickel reserves.
Ravalomanana has tried to return to the world's fourth largest island twice in the past year and both times the island's airports were closed, blocking his landing.
Under an agreement made by Madagascar's major political parties in September, Rajoelina would be confirmed as president, Ravalomanana would be allowed to return and elections would take place within a year.
But Marius Fransman, South Africa's deputy minister for international relations and cooperation, told a news conference in the Seychelles capital after the talks that there was a contradiction in that agreement that had not been resolved.
The agreement had recognised the authority of the courts, which meant that Ravalomanana could be arrested upon his return.
He said Article 20 of the agreement affirmed the unconditional return of Ravalomanana, but Article 45 upheld the court's ruling, sentence and warrant of arrest.
Fransman said this was the main sticking point in the talks.
“We (SADC) considered Madagascar's courts legitimate but Ravalomanana says the courts that sentenced him had no authority,” said Fransman, referring to the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which convened the meeting.
A further meeting between the rivals is expected in the coming weeks to try to break the deadlock.
South African President Jacob Zuma chaired the talks and urged the two to agree to a deal before the next SADC summit in Mozambique in mid-August.
The SADC had given both leaders a July 31 deadline to implement the broad agreement reached in September.
Rajoelina said on his return to Madagascar that SADC would impose penalties on anyone who blocked the peace process. He did not elaborate on his statement or say what the penalties might be.
Rajoelina, a former disc jockey, led demonstrations against Ravalomanana in early 2009 following the closure of his Viva TV Station. The protests gained momentum when they won the backing of the army. - Reuters