CONGO: Residents flee as army storms rebel stronghold
Frédéric Bitsangou, alias Pasteur Ntoumi, leader of the Ninjas.
BRAZZAVILLE, 20 October 2005 (IRIN) - Panic and fear spread across Brazzaville, capital of the Republic of Congo, on Wednesday as government troops exchanged heavy gunfire with "Ninja" rebels holed up in the Bacongo District of the city.
As the fighting raged, residents in the southern part of the city, where Bacongo is located, fled to the safe northern parts of the city. Vehicles heading to the southern city districts were halted temporarily and the state-owned television station in Bacongo only resumed transmission on Wednesday evening.
City hospital officials have reported receiving casualties. The Minister for Public Safety, Law and Order, Maj-Gen Paul Mbot, said three gendarmes, two police officers and a civilian of Chinese origin had died in the unrest. It remains unclear if they died in Wednesday's fighting or last week when the police tried to evict the Ninjas.
The government ordered the army to support the police who, on 13 October, failed to evict the Ninjas from Bacongo. The security forces are trying to dislodge the so-called Ninjas, loyal to the Rev Frédéric Bitsangou, alias Pasteur Ntoumi, who illegally occupied homes in Bacongo. The district is a Bitsangou "stronghold" where in 2003 the government built him a home, in an effort to get him to end his armed rebellion.
Wednesday's fighting coincided with the return on Friday of exiled Prime Minister Bernard Kolélas, who founded the Ninja militia in the 1990s.
The government allowed Kolélas to return to bury his wife - after eight years of exile in Bamako, capital of Mali. In 2000, a Congolese court sentenced Kolélas to death, in absentia, for various crimes committed by his militia during a five-month civil war in 1997. However, President Sassou-Nguesso has asked that legal procedures begin to grant Kolélas amnesty.
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]