Mormon church pulls missionaries from Madagascar

SALT LAKE CITY - Mormon missionaries in Madagascar who are not citizens of that country have been pulled out due to the political instability, church officials said.

"Due to continuing civil unrest and political instability, the U.S. State Department has issued a travel warning for Madagascar," Dale Bills, spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said Thursday.

"All missionaries serving in the Madagascar Antananarivo Mission are safe," he said. "Missionaries serving on the island of Madagascar who are not citizens of the country have been evacuated."

Madagascar has a population of about 14 million, including about 1,500 Mormons.

The church's action was announced on the same day that Madagascar's rival presidential candidates reached an accord to end an election impasse. They agreed to hold a new vote if a recount of the Dec. 16 poll fails to determine a conclusive winner.

The accord, announced after incumbent President Didier Ratsiraka and challenger Marc Ravalomanana shook hands at talks in Dakar, Senegal,is meant to resolve a three-month standoff.

The dispute has split the military, brought the impoverished nation's economy to a standstill and killed about 35 people.