Rebels cut train service to coast

Rail service stopped on Monday between the Republic of the Congo’s main port of Pointe-Noire and its capital, Brazzaville, following numerous attacks on trains along the 250-km stretch of rail line in the Pool region.

"Whenever trains cross the Pool they are attacked," Jacky Trimardeau, the director for the railway company, Chemin de Fer Congo Océan, said on Tuesday at a Brazzaville news conference.

"Under these conditions it is difficult to keep operating," he added.

Trimardeau said the rebel group known as Conseil National de la Résistance, or Ninjas, was perpetrating the attacks.

"We have decided to stop service until a new arrangement has been negotiated with the rebel chief," he said, referring to Frédéric Bitsangou, alias Pastor Ntumi.

However, Bitsangou denied his fighters were involved and has called for an independent inquiry. A precarious ceasefire between the government and the Ninjas has been in place since December 1999, when the former transitional government approved an amnesty.

However, the amnesty expired in January 2000 and in March 2002 renewed fighting erupted, followed by a new peace agreement on 17 March 2003.

In a recent attack between Thursday and Friday evenings, a passenger train was systematically pillaged, railway officials said. On the previous Sunday, a goods train was attacked.

Trimardeau said the recent attacks, which have cost the rail company around 600 millions francs CFA (US $10,000), had made it difficult for the company to pay its 2,207 employees their salaries.

A combined security force of gendarmes and Ninja militiamen had escorted trains, but on 9 October the government decided to replace them with army troops.

Bitsangou said the government took the unilateral decision as a pretext. He blames the attacks on armed groups who were being manipulated by politicians in Brazzaville.

On the Net: CONGO: Brazzaville to Pool train resumes service http://www.irinnews.org/print.asp?ReportID=40895 ]