Republic of Congo: IRIN News Briefs, 31 January

Kolelas recognises Sassou-Nguesso
Former prime minister and opposition leader Bernard Kolelas last week said he recognised President Denis Sassou-Nguesso as the Congolese leader. In an interview with Radio France Internationale, he expressed support for a ceasefire and a negotiated solution to the country's conflict. Earlier, about 150 of his Ninja militiamen surrendered to the authorities, following the signing of two ceasefire agreements. The authorities meanwhile freed 17 prisoners, some of whom who were allies of Kolelas, in the northern town of Impfondo at the beginning of January, AFP reported, citing the independent newspaper 'Les Echos du Congo'.

The second peace accord was signed in Brazzaville on 29 December 1999, consolidating the first one of 16 November. Humanitarian sources said the new accord, signed by the government and five representatives of the "resistance forces", should greatly advance ceasefire efforts. The signing ceremony was attended by ROC peace mediator, President Omar Bongo of Gabon. The sources said thousands of militiamen handed in their weapons during the month of January, in keeping with the accords. The fittest among them will be integrated into the army, while the others will be assisted to return to civilian life.

EU welcomes ceasefire accords

A recent statement by the European Union hailed the two agreements, saying they were "significant steps forward on the path towards pacification and national reconciliation" in ROC. Urging all sides in the Congolese conflict to renounce violence and commit themselves to an all-inclusive national dialogue, the EU said it may consider assistance - beyond emergency humanitarian aid - to contribute to the restoration of peace, democracy and development in ROC.

Rate of returnees rising fast

The latest OCHA report from ROC says the rate of return of displaced people to the cities is rising fast. Of an estimated 810,000 people displaced last year, 370,000 were estimated to have returned by the beginning of January. By February the number of returnees is expected to top 400,000, and if the pace continues, some 600,000 could have returned by April or May.

Government announces further crackdown on corruption

The government has reiterated it will crack down on corruption. Finance Minister Mathias Dzon last week announced he would take action against tax and customs fraud, AFP said. His announcement follows the detention earlier this month of three tax officials, suspected of embezzling 363 million CFA francs (US $570,000). He said 200 million CFA francs (US $300,000) would be allocated to strengthening accountancy and data-processing services in the tax and customs departments.

Angola seeking cooperation oil sector

Angola is seeking ROC's partnership to build a new oil refinery, Congolese radio reported last week. It quoted Angolan Petroleum Minister Jose Maria Botelho de Vasconcelos as saying he was contacting neighbouring countries with regard to the project. Speaking during a visit to Brazzaville, the Angolan minister said he was in the country to discuss petroleum issues and commercial relations. "We have common interests," he said. "We want to exploit these common interests together."

France pledges reconstruction assistance

French Cooperation Minister Charles Josselin, who visited ROC last week, has pledged his country's assistance in reconstructing various institutions. Congolese radio said he told a news conference in Brazzaville there was now hope for the country. France is already assisting in rebuilding the judicial system, the gendarmerie and the police. Josselin pledged further help in restructuring the armed forces and cooperation in education and culture, the radio said. He also urged the Congolese people to "mobilise their energy" towards development in the country and called on them to reconcile.


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