Congo: Ex-rebel leader renounces violence ahead of polls

KINKALA, 11 June 2007 (IRIN) - Congo's former rebel leader, Frédéric Bintsangou, alias Pastor Ntoumi, has renounced violence and vowed to work for the strengthening of peace and democracy two weeks before legislative elections in which his former armed group will participate.

"I am not a bandit, neither am I a barbarian or a turncoat," said Ntoumi during a ceremony on 8 June to destroy weapons used by his Ninja militia during the civil war. The rebels transformed themselves into a political party this year. "I will keep my word. I will play my part in the institutions so that we can maintain peace together," he said.

"I am determined to maintain peace and defend democracy," he added during the ceremony in Kinkala, 75km south of the Congolese capital, Brazzaville. About 60 small arms and six rifles were burned.

About 10,000 arms have been collected since 2001 during various operations conducted by the government of the Republic of Congo with the support of the International Organization for Migration and the European Union.

According to a study carried out in 2006 by the Swiss NGO, Small Arms Survey, there are more than 34,000 illegal arms in circulation in Congo, most of them in the southeastern region of Pool, which saw the fiercest fighting between government troops and Ninja rebels between 1998 and 2003.

Ntoumi announced that he would soon move to Brazzaville to take up his new appointment as a general delegate in the office of the head of state in charge of the promotion of peace and post-conflict reconstruction.

His Conseil National des Républicains (CNR) will participate in the parliamentary elections slated for 24 June, he said.

Ntoumi, who is a candidate in the Kimba constituency in Pool, lamented that the elections will be conducted by an electoral commission created by the government, despite opposition demands for an independent body.

Previous elections in Congo were marred by violence. In June 1993, supporters of former president Pascal Lissouba, whose party refused to recognise a first round of the elections and boycotted the second round, took to the streets, provoking hostilities that resulted in civil war.

The current parliament, which has 137 members, was elected in 2002 in elections that, according to some observers and the opposition, were characterised by irregularities. The 2002 elections were held in only six of 14 constituencies in Pool, which was then in a state of civil war.