Tuesday, 27 May 2003

Brazzaville (Fides Service) – A decisive step has been taken for peace in the Republic of Congo. The leader of the Ninja guerrilla movement, Frederic Bitsangou, also referred to as Pastor Ntoumi, left his forest hiding place in the Pool region to meet representatives of the Committee for the Verification of the Convention for Peace and Reconciliation in Congo, the body set up to monitor the peace agreement signed on 17 March this year between the government and Bitsangou.
“The meeting marks another step forward towards the return to normality”, a Spiritan Father with years of missionary experience in Congo tells Fides Service. “The March 17 agreement is on the whole respected; there has been no fighting in Pool for the past three or four months. The fact that the guerrilla leader has come onto the field to talk directly with the authorities would seem to imply that there is the will to consolidate the agreement and go head towards peace”.
Nevertheless nothing is known about the details of the requests made by Bitsangou to put an end to the war. Bitsangou has said that “peace is the work of God. A civil war is never settled with weapons”.
Pool region lies north west of Brazzaville the capital. It is here that since March 2002 Bitsangou’s militia has fought a war which has forced thousands of flee their homes to escape the violence. Fighting broke out a few days after Colonel Michel Ngakala, High Commissioner for the rehabilitation of former soldiers, in a public meeting on 21 March 2002, accused Pastor Ntoumi of having still under his control an army of 200 militia. The Colonel said that the presence of these troops in Mihete village in the district of Vindza, was “a threat to peace”. The officer added that Ntoumi had put unacceptable peace conditions including his appointment as a general and spiritual leader of the army, the inclusion of all the Ninja militia into the army and a personal escort of 450 men.
An agreement which put an end to the 1999 civil war envisaged the demobilisation of about 25,000 militants of various rebel groups: Cobras (faithful to president Denis Sassou-Nguesso), Cocoyes (loyal to former president Pascal Lissouba) and Ninjas (followers of Prime Minister Bernard Kolelas). On 31 March 2002 the Ninja kidnapped French Spiritan missionary Father Jean Guth who was found dead in September of that same year. (L.M.) (Fides Service 27/5/2002 lines 33 words 433)