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Congo Brazzaville Militia Pushed Out of Capital

21 October 2005

Security forces in Congo Brazzaville have driven an armed militia from its stronghold in the capital. Fighting between the group and Congolese troops erupted last week, highlighting continued instability in the country, despite a peace deal in 2003.

Army officials in Brazzaville are urging residents of the capital to return home, saying they have successfully dislodged an armed militia from a compound in the neighborhood of Bacongo, in the southern part of the city.

Members of the so-called Ninja militia clashed with Congolese troops last week, leaving several people dead. The fighters had been based in Bacongo for several months.

Though there are reports of deaths on both sides during the Wednesday battle to drive the Ninja out of the capital, it remains unclear how many were killed in the fighting.

Congo-Brazzaville's military representatives say they acted in legitimate self defense. They say the presence of Ninja fighters in Bacongo had made it a center for insecurity and undermined state authority.

The ex-rebel group says the army's actions constitute a violation of the 2003 peace accord that was meant to end fighting in the country's civil war, which erupted in 1997.

Although the Ninja forces have been driven out of the capital, other armed factions remain there, including those of President Denis Sassou-Nguesso, many of whose fighters now serve in the national army.

This latest incident coincides with the visit of ousted Prime Minister Bernard Kolelas. Mr. Kolelas has lived in exile since his ouster from power in 1997, but he recently returned to bury his wife in Congo-Brazzaville.

The Ninja have long supported the former prime minister.

A researcher for the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey, Ryan Nichols, says, though street battles like those seen in Brazzaville over the last week are nothing new, they highlight the problems caused by the failure to get the various factions to disarm.

"It's worrying of course. But its not a surprise, if you look at Brazzaville's history. Over the course of the last ten years, fighting has frequently entered into the streets of Brazzaville," he said. "Brazzaville's people are unfortunately used to this."

Though the Ninja attract a lot of attention, due to their presence in and around the capital, Mr. Nichols says other armed groups also cause disruptions.

"They're not the only ex-combatants around. There [are] two other ex-factions. There's another militia group called the Koi Koi, as well as within the Sassou regime. He came to power with the support of his own militia groups called the Cobras," added Mr. Nichols. "Tensions still exist between a lot of these ex-combatants."

Congo's national disarmament commission has been calling for a new disarmament plan. But no specific timetable has yet been agreed upon.

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