UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA - AFRICAN STUDIES CENTER
Congo (Brazzaville): Conflict Reports
Date distributed (ymd): 991103
Document reposted by APIC
Region: Central Africa
Issue Areas: +security/peace+
This posting contains (1) excerpts from recent news briefs from the UN's Integrated Regional Information Network on the conflict and humananitarian crisis in the Republic of Congo, and (2) excerpts from the recently released report by Medecins sans Frontieres, "The Forgotten War."
For an earlier, more general background brief, also from IRIN, see http://www.africapolicy.org/docs97/braz9710.htm
For ongoing coverage see in particular
http://www.reliefweb.int/IRIN/archive/congo.htm and http://www.africanews.org/central/congo
Republic of Congo: IRIN News Briefs, Friday 29 October
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MSF details atrocities
The army, pro-government militia and armed rebel groups have "generated massive and blind atrocities" against civilian populations since the resumption of conflict in December 1998, MSF said in a report released on Wednesday. It said more than 10 percent of the country's population had been displaced, including over 250,000 people who fled the capital Brazzaville and sought refuge in the forests of the Pool region south of the city, where they became "de facto hostages" of the Ninja militia allied to former prime minister Bernard Kolelas. "Victims of indiscriminate violence, they have had no access to food or medical care," it said, adding that those who managed to return to Brazzaville were now the victims of indiscriminate attacks from the government army and its Cobra militia.
"Unbearable" silence of international community
Civilians caught in the country's "forgotten war" have been subjected to arbitrary executions, mutilations, rapes and disappearances, the report said, citing recently-collected testimonies from affected families. Given the gravity of the situation, "the silence and indifference of the international community is unbearable", according to MSF, which was awarded the Nobel peace prize last week. Although the capital has been relatively calm since July, there is today "little hope of a rapid and negotiated solution to the conflict", and both sides reject responsibility for violence against the population.
"Unprecedented" humanitarian crisis
Meanwhile, MSF teams in the Congo have reported an "unprecedented nutritional and medical crisis". Out of the 200,000 displaced people who have returned from Pool to Brazzaville since May, 14,700 people - including more than 3,300 children under five years old - have been treated for serious malnutrition in the city's nutritional centres. There were now 1,000-2,000 people arriving every day, and many were still dying during their trip back to Brazzaville or soon after. The Pool region remained inaccessible to humanitarian organisations, and hundreds of thousands of civilians were still caught in the fighting, the report said.
Soldiers warned of execution risk
Congo's chief of defence staff, General Jacques-Yvon Ndodou, said last week the army would no longer put up with undisciplined elements within its ranks, Radio Congo reported on 21 October. During visits to Brazzaville's garrison units, Ndodou warned soldiers they could face execution for bad behaviour. "Military tribunals will soon be put in place to try and even, if need be, execute soldiers who carry out reprehensible acts," Ndodou said. "Officers should henceforth assume their responsibilities," the radio quoted him as saying.
Republic of Congo: IRIN News Briefs, 22 October 1999
Military helicopters flying assistance to Kindamba
Military helicopters have been flying in food and medical assistance and evacuating the most vulnerable from Kindamba, northwest of Brazzaville, since government forces recently took it from rebels, an update from the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the ROC said. According to the report, a spontaneous site of 1,700 people, including some 400 seriously malnourished children is being maintained in the town under the protection of government forces. The fall of Kindamba has also reportedly resulted in a recent wave of arrivals in Brazzaville.
Kinkala convoy starts on Friday
The regular food and medicines delivery convoy to Kinkala started on Friday, the UN report said. Security would be provided by the government. The report added that a WFP vessel carrying some 288 mt of CSB [nutritional therapy mixture] was due to arrive in Pointe Noire next Monday to provide for tens of thousands of seriously malnourished people.
President marks second anniversary
ROC President Denis Sassou-Nguesso last Friday celebrated his second year in power, news agencies reported. To mark the occasion, he inaugurated a monument in memory of some 10,000 people killed during the civil war between June and October 1997.
Pro-Lissouba officers freed
Meanwhile, 12 senior officers and a high ranking magistrate, who were imprisoned for two years without trial for having backed deposed president Pascal Lissouba, were released in a public ceremony last Friday, news reports said. According to the justice ministry, the 12 will be reintegrated into the army. According to a humanitarian source, the releases are a "further positive sign of progress towards sustainable peace".
Mercenary enquiry called "frivolous"
A government representative on Thursday rejected the latest findings of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Use of Mercenaries, terming his enquiry "frivolous". The representative, Henri Blaise Gotienne, told a committee of the UN General Assembly that the report was "full of false allegations and incorrect information on his country", according to a UN press release. In his latest report, released last month, the rapporteur, Enrique Bernales Ballesteros, said the situation in the Republic of Congo had "steadily worsened after two years of armed conflicts". Civil resistance had been harshly put down by the government "to the point where the situation has given rise to reports of ethnic extermination in South Brazzaville, South Congo and the Pool region".
The presence of Angolan, Chadian and French mercenaries alongside government troops has been reported, as has the presence of mercenaries in the opposition forces, the rapporteur stated. He cited reports as saying that a "major European power" was behind the conflict "for reasons concerning its interest in controlling Congolese petroleum". Armed conflict in the Congo continued, giving rise to massive human rights violations, he added. However, Gotienne told the UN committee that violence in the Congo had been "eradicated" and political dialogue with the opposition had started.
Republic of Congo: IRIN News Briefs, 15 October 1999
Survey reveals high death rate
A recent survey of Brazzaville returnees has revealed that the death rate in the rural Pool region during August was 5-6 deaths per day per 10,000 people, an update from the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the Republic of Congo said. The report, received by IRIN on Friday, said most deaths were related to malnutrition. About 140,000 people are displaced in rural areas of Pool, which has been affected by insecurity since September 1998. The return of displaced persons to Brazzaville from Pool continues at a rate of 1,500 people a day. However, the number of displaced persons returning with UNHCR assistance via the DRC has dropped, with less than 1,000 returnees by that route recorded since 1 October, the report said.
Republic of Congo: IRIN News Briefs, 12 October 1999
Republic of Congo: Over 800,000 displaced and returned persons
The UN Country Team (UNCT) in the Republic of Congo has produced new working estimates for the total number of displaced and recently returned persons, putting the figure at 810,000. This number includes both former urban and rural dwellers, mainly inside the country but also including some refugees. Of these, the team said some 340,000 former urban residents were displaced in December 1998 and January 1999 - 200,000 have returned, including 150,000 to Brazzaville. It added that a further 140,000 former urban residents have yet to return and remain in the forest and other rural areas in "very difficult humanitarian conditions".
Another 440,000 rural dwellers are reportedly displaced within the four most affected regions of Pool, Bouenza, Niari, Lekoumou and also in the coastal town of Pointe Noire. There are additionally some 30,000 refugees outside the country in the DRC and Gabon.
Meanwhile, the team said tens of thousands more people in rural areas are not displaced but are "seriously affected" by prolonged food shortages, lack of clean water, and lack of access to health care services. The UNCT said the figures are still rudimentary but are being "steadily improved".
Congo-Brazzaville: The story of a forgotten war
A Document by Medecins Sans Frontieres
[Excerpts: for the report go to:
For the French-language version go to:
For the past 11 months, combats between the government army or militias and the rebel militias have resumed in Congo-Brazzaville. They have generated massive and blind atrocities against civilian populations. The resulting widespread violence perpetrated by the parties at war affects the entire civilian population. ...
In December 98, more than 250,000 people fled the capital because of the fighting, to seek refuge in the tropical forests of the "Pool", a region south of the city. However, they found themselves caught up in the middle of the combats, de facto hostages of the "Ninjas" ( the rebel militias). Victims of indiscriminate violence, they have had no access to food or medical care, and could not benefit from any exterior help. Furthermore, the ones who survived and managed to come back to Brazzaville are now the victims of indiscriminate attacks from the government army and militias (the "Cobras").
Until now, no party in the conflict has taken significant steps to prevent the violence against civilians. It clearly shows their lack of interest concerning the fate of the civilian population. Given the gravity of the situation, the silence and indifference of the international community is unbearable.
Medecins Sans Frontieres volunteers have been present in Brazzaville since last April, implementing medical and nutritional programs. They are the witnesses of tens of thousands of civilians returning to the capital, starving, exhausted after several months spent wandering in the forest. Our teams in Congo-Brazzaville have to face an unprecedented nutritional and medical crisis.
Last December, hundreds of thousands of people fled the combats and violence of armed groups in the Congolese capital. The total population of the country is 2,8 million people. More then 10% of the population have been forced to seek refuge. Even if 70,000 people found refuge in the relatively safe northern part of the city. Most of the displaced went to the Pool, a tropical forest zone south of Brazzaville. For several months, these refugees have lived without any resources, prisoners of the militias, with aid organizations unable to provide them assistance.
The displaced who made it back to Brazzaville all say that they were not able to leave the pool region because of the violent combats, and the control the Ninjas have of the zone. Chased from one village to another, they first lived in villages, where locals helped them. With the continuing combats, they dispersed to seek refuge in the forest. They all tell of extremely difficult survival conditions ( absence of food, hygiene, medical assistance ) and speak of " epidemics of swollen feet " ( i .e. kwashiorkor, a very serious form of malnutrition which gives edemas ), and of numerous deaths among children and old people.
According to testimonies collected by the Medecins Sans Frontieres teams, villages were deliberately targeted by either or other party in conflict, and sometimes even bombarded by helicopter. Some displaced confirm that they were strictly controlled by the Ninjas, who increased their pressure as the government troops got closer. Some say they were used as " human shields ".
Today, about 200 000 people have returned from the Pool to Brazzaville since last May. During the last weeks, 1000 to 2000 people arrive in the capital everyday.
The flow of displaced returning to Brazzaville started last May, the government army having conquered cities south of Brazzaville and officially reopened the southern parts of the city. The size of the movements back to the capital have been proportional to the violence of combats in the Pool, and to the progress of government troops in the south towards the main stronghold of the opposition.
All new arrivals in Brazzaville tell of abuses and acts of violence perpetrated by both the Armed Forces of Congo (FAC) or the Cobra militias, and the rebel Ninja militias. The government troops and militias supervise the internally displaced people (IDP) convoys, and control the military roadblocks on the road going from Kinkala to Brazzaville. The IDPs call this road the " corridor of Death ": young men - suspected of being Ninjas - are arbitrarily executed, and acts of violence and robberies are regularly reported. This violence continues today.
Women and very young girls are systematically raped. Since April 30th, more than 500 cases have been reported at the Makelekele hospital and at the "Sports Center " (transformed into a transit center) where the MSF teams greet the refugees. This figure is very low compared to the reality of the phenomenon. It only mentions the women who acknowledge having been raped on the road to Brazzaville by Cobra militiamen and government troops. It does not register the cases of sexual violence during their stay in the Pool (such a figure is impossible to give), or the cases not declared.
The testimonies collected by MSF volunteers during their medical or nutritional activities tell of massive Human Rights violations and acts of violence by the different armed forces, in the Pool region or on the way back to Brazzaville.
However, Congo-Brazzaville still does not benefit from any media coverage or attention from the international community. Furthermore, there is today little hope of a rapid and negotiated solution to the conflict, and both sides reject the responsibility of the acts of violence on the population.
Since last July, the capital and its periphery are relatively calm. However, despite this apparent appeasement, and an effort from the government to " rectify the situation " and limit the violence committed by the militias, the Pool region is still not accessible to humanitarian organizations without military protection.
From: "APIC" <email@example.com> Date: Wed,
3 Nov 1999 09:42:27 -0500
Subject: Congo (Brazzaville): Conflict Reports
Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar, firstname.lastname@example.org