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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Friday 21 October 2005

CONGO: Calm returns to Brazzaville

BRAZZAVILLE, 21 Oct 2005 (IRIN) - Brazzaville, capital of the Republic of Congo, returned to calm on Thursday, a day after government troops expelled rebels, known as Ninjas, from the city.

"We received an order to evict the Ninjas. That is what we did. We chased them and they are all out of Brazzaville," an army captain, who declined to be identified, said.

With calm restored to the city's southern district of Bacongo where the fighting took place, the army has asked residents to return to their homes.

"The army wants to reassure people and will not tolerate anything that can compromise peace and security," Col Jean-Robert Obargui, the army spokesman, said on Thursday.

Despite the army's assurances, residents who fled Bacongo are still hesitant to return to their homes permanently. Some made visits on Thursday to assess the damage and take away mattresses, jerry cans and other household items. They said they would wait for the situation to stabilise before returning permanently.

The Ninjas are loyal to the Rev Frederic Bitsangao, alias Pasteur Ntoumi, who signed an agreement with the government in March 2003 to stop fighting and join the government.

The army, which has been patrolling Bacongo since late Wednesday, said some shops at Total, the biggest market in the district, were looted during the fighting. Some shop owners managed to take items for safekeeping elsewhere.

"There were some lootings, obviously," a soldier, in blood stained uniform, said, "but the crooks could not take their loot since the police were present."

Civilians expressed fear of rebel reprisals, who they said were heavily armed when they fled the city. The Ninjas were entrenched previously in Bacongo.

Some displaced residents claimed that security forces had asked them for money. They said these people had stolen mobile phones, wallets and jewellery from them as they fled to remote neighbourhoods.

According to a provisional government assessment of the fighting, the result of which was broadcast on national radio, three Ninjas and a government soldier were killed.

Earlier Bitsangou's spokesman, legal and administrative adviser, Ané Philippe Bibi, said:
"Eight ex-fighters [Ninjas] have been abducted by the security force, and civilians close to Conseil national de la résistance [National Council of Resistance - CNR] have been killed."

He said the army attacked the rebels' positions while CNR members were negotiating with the prime minister. He also said the ex-Ninjas were ambushed since the government had asked them to leave the houses they were occupying by 24 October.

"The heavy gunfire attack launched by the army is further evidence of the logic of violence, which has always characterised the government of Brazzaville," he said.

The clashes between the army and the Ninjas cast doubt on the March 2003 agreement between CNR and the government and raise concerns over the problem of disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) of ex-fighters.

The ROC is due to launch a US $20-million national disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programme, which will target all the ex-fighters who did not participate in previous DDR programmes.



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