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CONGO: Court acquits top army, police officers of mass murder

Brazzaville, 18 August 2005 (IRIN) - The Criminal Court of Brazzaville cleared 15 high ranking army and police officers on Wednesday of killing 353 refugees who returned home to the Republic of Congo (ROC) in 1999.

"The defendants were not individually responsible for committing war crimes, genocide or crimes against humanity," Charles Emile Apesse, president of the court, said in Brazzaville, referring to the charges against the defendants.

Most prominent among the defendants were the inspector general of the armed forces, Gen Norbert Dabira; the commander of the Brazzaville Military Region,Gen Blaise Adoua; and the director general of police, Jean François Ndenguet.

The returning refugees had fled to neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo in 1998 to escape their own country's civil war. On their arrival at Brazzaville's river port known as "Le Beach" in 1999, they were arrested on suspicion of being supporters of a local militia known as the Ninjas. They were never seen in public again.

Wednesday's acquittals angered relatives of the missing who accused unnamed government officials of involvement in the disappearance.

"It's a conspiracy. It's a pity. We are disappointed," Vincent Niamankessi, the president of the committee representing the families of the missing refugees, told AFP.

The court said the state had accepted "civil responsibility" for the facts for which the defendants were accused, and ordered the government to pay each plaintiff 10 million francs CFA (US $18,500) in compensation for each of missing relative. Lawyers for the plaintiffs had asked for 100 million francs ($185,000) for each missing person.

Theme (s): Human Rights,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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