The international community is urging the Indian Ocean Island’s feuding political parties to forge a negotiated settlement following the military-backed ouster of former leader Marc Ravalomanana in March.

Political turmoil has gripped the country since the beginning of the year, hurting economic growth and prompting several donors including the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the United States to freeze non-emergency aid.

U.N. envoy Tiebile Drame said COMESA, a 19-member group of eastern and southern African nations, should focus its efforts on supporting the political process.

On Monday, the economic bloc called for a return to democracy in Madagascar and said military intervention to restore constitutional order could be an option.

"This sort of statement does not help. We don’t need this kind of declaration," Drame told reporters at a hotel in the capital where the on-off crisis talks are taking place.

Zimbabwe’s aging dictator Robert Mugabe, Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, Africa’s two best known war mongers, assisted by the budding African despot Swazi King Muswati and the rogue Lyban leader Libyan leader, who is the AU Chairman are planning an offensive action on Madagascar’s Ravalomanana government, which is supported by the Chinese and North Korea.

France, accused by Ravalomanana of backing President Andry Rajoelina, said it far preferred dialogue under the auspices of the African Union to any prospect of a military intervention.

"We feel that military intervention is not the right idea," French Foreign Ministry spokesman Eric Chevallier told reporters at a regular briefing. 

Ravalomanana, exiled in South Africa, says he remains the legitimate head of state.

AMNESTY DEBATE

Negotiations over the structure of an interim government to rule the world’s fourth largest island up until the next presidential elections have stalled over the issue of amnesty for political prisoners.

The pre-condition was set by allies of former leader Didier Ratsiraka, who fled to France after disputed elections in 2001 but remains a kingmaker of Malagasy politics.

The government has said any amnesty could only apply up until the end of December 2008, leaving it free to try Ravalomanana — who last week was sentenced in absentia to four years in jail for abuse of office — for further charges.

Ravalomanana’s camp has said that for it to accept an amnesty, it must apply up until the signing of a new charter.

"By insisting on the amnesty applying until then (an eventual signing) they are trying to avoid the February 7 killings being investigated," Drame told Reuters.

On that day security forces fired indiscriminately on hundreds of anti-Ravalomanana protesters outside a city-centre presidential palace, killing at least 28 people.

Drame said he had proposed a commission of inquiry to decide whether the events of February 7 constituted a gross violation of human rights, which in turn would determine whether any amnesty could cover this period.