Republic of Congo: IRIN News Briefs, Friday 17 March

Repairs underway on vital rail line
The railway line between the capital Brazzaville and the southern port city of Pointe-Noire should be fully operational again by the end of April, news agencies reported. Reuters quoted a spokesman for France's state railway company SNCF as saying on 10 March that the Congolese government had paid SNCF part of the money due for repairs to the line, which was damaged in the country's civil war starting in late 1998. The rail line remained closed for most of 1999. Partial services resumed in January and SNCF engineers were now completing repairs and restoring five bridges destroyed by the rebels, it said.

Economic growth expected in 2000

Following a year of economic "quasi-stagnation" in 1999, the government has forecast growth this year as a result of favourable oil prospects, the expected full resumption of railway traffic and the normalisation of the political situation in the country, the Panafrican News Agency (PANA) said on Thursday. It quoted a statement from the national credit committee as saying the growth rate in real terms would be 6.5 percent, while real income per capita would increase by 3.9 percent.

IMF agreement crucial for recovery

Meanwhile, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) said in a country report last week that, despite the damage caused by the civil war, economic performance in the Congo would improve owing to higher revenue from the oil sector, which was relatively unaffected by the conflict. With greater stability, it said foreign assistance for reconstruction was likely to increase, and an agreement with the IMF may be possible toward the end of the year. "Such an agreement, which is essential for releasing other foreign aid, would ensure economic recovery and the restoration of basic services," it said.

Peace settlement "partial"

However, the EIU said the ceasefire agreement signed by militia leaders last year represented "only a partial settlement" to the Congo conflict because the accord did not include exiled former president Pascal Lissouba and former prime minister Bernard Kolelas. As the militia commanders who signed the accord may not control all forces in the country, "some level of military activity is likely to continue," the report stated.

Militia group unhappy with peace process

Meanwhile, the opposition Conseil National de Resistance (CNR) has threatened to pull out of the country's peace process over what it said was lack of government compliance with provisions of the accord, news agencies reported this week. CNR third vice-president Emmanuel Boungouanza said provisions for a general amnesty, recruitment of former militiamen and the organisation of a national dialogue were not being addressed by the treaty monitoring committee, of which he was a member, the Inter-Press Service (IPS) reported on Wednesday. But government spokesman Francois
Ibovi said the government was "creating the right conditions" for the national dialogue to take place, after which a government of national unity would be installed, IPS reported.

UN committee urges better human rights protection

Congo's civil war and difficult times did not exonerate the government from complying with its human rights obligations, an expert on the UN Human Rights Committee said on Tuesday. At a review of Congo's second periodic report on its compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, another UN committee member said the government needed to address the question of a timetable to achieve human rights. While the Government should be careful not to go too fast, the creation of a constitutional and legal framework for the protection of human rights was crucial, a UN statement quoted the committee member as saying.

In response, government representative Basil Ikouebe told the committee that the country's planned three-year transition period could not be respected because of the outbreak of war. It would not have been appropriate to engage in "democratic window dressing" during that period, he said. Ikouebe also said the estimated 810,000 people displaced by the war would not have been able to vote if elections had been held earlier. Elections were now scheduled to take place next year, he added.

UN sanctions violated

A UN Security Council report on UNITA sanctions busting alleged on Wednesday that, following the signing of the 1994 Lusaka Protocol on Angola, UNITA moved a "significant amount" of military equipment into Congo to avoid UN monitoring. The report stated that the equipment was progressively fed back into UNITA-controlled parts of Angola by air from Pointe-Noire between 1994 and 1998, although it said there was no independent confirmation of the claim. The report also said the former Congolese government had in 1995 acceded to a request by UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi to facilitate the purchase of 10,000 military uniforms, in violation of UN sanctions. The uniforms were bought from a French factory under the cover of the Brazzaville government, but there was reportedly no direct contact with the French government on the deal, it added.


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