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Pascal Lissouba

In reaction to the events in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, the governing Parti congolais du travail (PCT) convened in an extraordinary congress at the beginning of the nineties: a multi-party system was to be introduced and the role of the PCT in social organisation should be reduced. All political leaders were invited to discuss the path for the future of Congo-Brazzaville. The army-dominated PCT leadership did not want to give up power.

In 1992 the first multi-party elections were held. Pascal Lissouba was elected President; his party, the Union panafricaine pour la démocratie sociale (UPADS), won the legislative elections with only a relative majority. The UPADS formed an alliance with the PCT which broke up when the PCT did not get all the key positions in the government it had asked for.

Another alliance ensued, this time between the PCT and Bernard Kolélas MCDDI (Mouvement congolais pour la démocratie et le développement intégral). After this coalition received a vote of no confidence in parliament in October 1992, Pascal Lissouba dissolved the National Assembly and new elections were scheduled for 1993.

At this point the problems with the army still were not solved. When the coalition between the MCDDI and the PCT started a campaign of civil disobedience protesting against Lissouba and demanding to form a new government, the armed forces set up a transitional government.

Lissouba for his part was so distrustful of the armed forces that he decided to form his own militia, thereby alienating the few army members who were still supporting him. Lissouba having formed his Cocoye militia (also known as Mamba), Kolélas decided to establish his own militia, the Ninjas.

As a civilian with no connection to the military he asked Sassou-Nguesso for support. Sassou-Nguesso provided him with former government soldiers to form a militia which became known as the Ninjas. Sassou-Nguesso had also established a militia called the Cobras.

In 1993, Brazzaville was divided into three parts: Sassou-Nguesso controlled the Northern parts of the capital, Bernard Kolélas was in control of the South, and Lissouba held the center of the city. During this time many people were killed, tortured and driven from their homes because they belonged to the “wrong” ethnic group.

Because of irregularities the 1993 elections had to be repeated three times. An administration run by a coalition of the PCT, the MCDDI and various other groups ruled the country until 1997. Eventually, the presidential elections were scheduled together with the legislative elections for July and August 1997.

Disputed legislative elections in 1993 led to violent conflict between militias, representing party political and ethnic interests and formed to support the three major political leaders. During the 1993-94 civil war, Sassou's Cobra militia and Kolelas's Ninjas were allied against Lissouba's Cocoyes in a conflict in which some 2,000 people were killed and tens of thousands displaced before an agreement was signed in December 1994 to end hostilities. However, agreements to disarm militias and integrate them into the security forces were only partially implemented; disputes concerning the elections continued and violence increased in the run-up to 1997 elections.

In June 1997, when President Lissouba, fearing a coup d'etat, sent Cocoyes to arrest Sassou and disarm his Cobras, fighting spread throughout the capital-Brazzaville was divided into three zones each controlled by one of the militias. According to Amnesty International, "Civilians and members of the security forces suspected, usually on the basis of their ethnic origin, of supporting rival leaders were killed, detained or driven from their homes. . . By August, fighting had spread to northern Congo" (AI, Mar. 1999, p. 8). In September 1997 President Lissouba appointed Bernard Kolelas as Prime Minister, while Sassou refused to take up five ministerial posts offered to his party. In October, supported by Angolan troops, Sassou's forces took control of Brazzaville and on 17 October 1997 Sassou declared himself president.

In October 1998 a court "indicted 100 members of Congo's former government with a sweeping list of offenses including assassinations, tortures, rapes, fraud and theft" (CNN, 16 Oct. 1998). Former-President Lissouba was later sentenced to 20 years imprisonment and former-Prime Minister Kolelas was sentenced to death in absentia for their alleged crimes. The U.S. Department of State, however, has stated that the "judiciary continued to be overburdened, underfinanced, and subject to corruption and political influence" (U.S. DOS, Country Reports 1998, Apr. 1999, p. 102).

Amnesty International concluded: "a number of judicial officials appeared to be partisan in their acknowledgement of human rights abuses which had occurred when former-President Lissouba was in power. The officials were reluctant to admit that forces loyal to President Sassou had also carried out grave abuses of human rights. In most cases they appeared to support the government line that forces loyal to former-President Lissouba and his Prime Minister, Kolelas, had almost exclusive responsibility for the crimes committed in late 1997" (AI, Mar. 1999, p.12).

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