Ousted Madagascar leader Marc Ravalomanana left South Africa on Saturday to return home in a move that could result in his arrest and stoke political tensions on the Indian Ocean island.

A Reuters cameraman reported that his flight had left Johannesburg and he is expected to land in Madagascar's capital Antananarivo shortly before 2.30 p.m. (1130 GMT).

Ravalomanana, accompanied by his wife, looked relaxed and was smiling before his departure.

Exiled in South Africa since he was toppled in a military coup in 2009, Ravalomanana was sentenced in absentia to life in prison for the killings of demonstrators by elite troops in the runup to his removal.

The current leader, Andry Rajoelina, has said the return of the former president risked raising tensions and a senior cabinet minister said in September that Ravalomanana would be arrested on arrival.

Asked by reporters on Saturday if he thought he would be arrested on his return, Ravalomanana said: No, no, no.

Madagascar, famed for its unique and bizarre wildlife, has been hit by political instability and an economic slowdown since Rajoelina overthrew Ravalomanana.

Its tourism industry has suffered badly from the political unrest and global economic problems. Foreign investors who have been eying its oil, gold and chrome have also been wary of committing to the impoverished nation.

(Writing and additional reporting by Ed Stoddard,; editing by David Stamp)