African Forces Retake Anjouan Island

MORONI, Comoros -- Troops from the Indian Ocean archipelago of Comoros seized the rebel island of Anjouan on Tuesday with African Union military help, and the government said its self-declared leader had fled disguised as a woman.

The forces attacked at dawn to topple Mohamed Bacar, a French-trained former gendarme who took power in 2001 and clung on after an illegal election last year on the wooded, hilly island of 300,000 people.

"Anjouan island is under total control of the army," Major Ahmed Sidi told reporters on the neighboring island of Moheli.

"So far we have no dead or wounded to lament. The rebel chiefs have all run away, and none has yet been found," he said.

A federal government spokesman said Bacar had been spotted in the village of Sandapoini, from where he was thought to be trying to escape by boat to the nearby French-run island of Mayotte.

"It seems, according to various sources, that he is dressed as a woman," said the spokesman, Abdourahim Said Bacar.

With phone connections to Anjouan cut, there was no independent confirmation of that.

Hundreds of Comorian and AU troops quickly took the capital, airport and other towns, officials said. One said several of Bacar's aides had been arrested, including his justice minister.

The AU had deployed some 1,350 troops to the spice and perfume-producing islands, which lie 300 kilometers east of the African mainland and have a population of about 700,000.

Analysts say the AU was hoping a relatively easy victory in Anjouan would earn some international prestige to offset the struggles of its peacekeeping missions in Sudan and Somalia.