Republic of Congo: IRIN News Briefs, Friday 10 March

Displaced returning home in continuous stream
The humanitarian situation at the moment is characterised by "the continuous move of displaced people from the forests and resettlements of former refugees to their respective homes and villages", a UNICEF report stated on Tuesday. It said this was especially so in areas where security was guaranteed. Some 200,000 people internally displaced during the civil war were expected to return home by April or May of this year, encouraged by a decline in military activities and the December 1999 ceasefire accords between the government and opposition parties. With about 370,000 people having already returned in January, that would bring the figures of returned IDPs to some 600,000 - or roughly three-quarters of those displaced throughout the country during late 1998 and 1999, the report said.

Presidents calls on opponents to consolidate peace

President Denis Sassou-Nguesso has appealed to all Congolese, particularly exiled politicians opposed to his government, to take advantage of the government's guarantee of security by returning to help consolidate the emerging peace and reconstruct the country. Intensifying the momentum towards peace and reconciliation had become a major priority for the president, the PanAfrican News Agency (PANA) quoted Economy Minister Henri Djombo as saying.

A committee established to follow up December's peace deal was currently engaged in the voluntary disarmament of militias. Up to now, 3,000 militiamen had handed in some 5,000 guns in an operation scheduled for completion in two months' time, Djombo added. He said the committee was attempting to establish a return and rehabilitation programme for displaced people and demobilised militia members. He urged donors - particularly the EU and UN agencies - for assistance. The minister brushed aside questions about a timetable for democratic elections, saying "the essential process now was to establish peace and that would later lead up to an electoral process", PANA reported.

Peace committee defends freedom of movement

Meanwhile, the peace monitoring committee on Wednesday warned the security forces and former militia groups - both government and opposition - against restricting freedom of movement of people in former conflict zones. Committee vice-chairman Guy-Leon Ganya had recently visited Nzambi in the south of the country, near the border with Gabon, to assess the situation of the displaced where hundreds of armed militiamen had gathered and were considered a threat to the still fragile peace, Gabonese radio reported. A statement issued by the committee meeting, chaired by Interior
Minister Pierre Oba, outlawed any form of coercion against anyone abiding by or promoting the peace deal. It also urged civil servants and soldiers to rejoin their bases, and students to return to their classes, Reuters news agency said.

Education system "paralysed"

More than 50 percent of children of school age are still outside the system, and the quality of education has seriously declined in the Congo as a result of the civil war, UNICEF's report stated. Most schools were in a state of poor basic hygiene and sanitation, and education as a whole was "seriously paralysed", it said. However there remained two comparative advantages on which the agency could capitalise to rehabilitate the school system. First, there still existed parents' associations that played an active role in sustaining education activities and, secondly, the NGO sector was strongly cooperative.

UNICEF's approach, it added, would be to focus on basic education, providing such essentials as desks, notebooks, pens, chalk and learning kits for teachers and pupils returning to schools. It would later use this as an entry point to introduce the rehabilitation of school buildings, revolving funds for materials, school gardening and hygiene promotion in the community, peace education and child rights protection.


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