Congo peace accords bear fruit
Laudes Martial Mbon
Brazzaville - Many were sceptical when accords were signed seven years ago to end successive conflicts in the Pool region of the Republic of Congo, but now the Congolese feel hopeful that peace will last.
On March 17 2003, the government of President Denis Sassou Nguesso and the National Council of the Resistance led by Frederic Bintsamou, known as Father Ntumi, jointly made commitments to end a decade of civil war.
The densely forested Pool, which lies to the south and west of the capital Brazzaville, was devastated by the fighting and was no longer the "breadbasket of the Congo".
The government, human rights groups and civic associations agree that 15 000 people lost their lives in battles fought mainly between rival militias from 1993, including several thousand dead in the Pool region.
Today, "we can say that the major objectives (of the 2003 peace accords) have been attained," said Philippe Bibi, a councillor in the cabinet of the CNR, which in 2007 became a political party called the National Council of Republicans.
"We had to organise together (with the government) the disarmament of ex-combatants, and facilitate the building of a road of capital importance," Bibi told AFP. "The free movement of people and goods is real and effective."
Like Bibi, many Congolese note that the Pool region is evolving little by little. It is crossed by the Congo-Ocean railway, which is the main link for people and goods between the capital in the southwest and Pointe-Noire, the economic and oil capital in the east on the Atlantic.
The EU has devoted more than $67m to laying a road between Brazzaville and Ngambari, via Kinkala, the main town in the Pool. The road has opened the way for agriculture in the region, by providing access to Brazzaville's markets.
In June 2008, the government launched a National Programme of Demobilisation, Disarmament and Reinsertion (PNDDR), financed to the tune of $17m by the World Bank.
The aim was to take charge of 5 000 of Ntumi's ex-fighters, as well as 6 000 members of the security forces and 19 000 fighters who had demobilised themselves.
"Thanks to the PNDDR, we have recovered more than 4 000 weapons from 5 000 ex-combatants. Major efforts have been made," Bibi said.
"But planned steps to help young people with their socio-economic reinsertion have not been taken."
"Peace is a long process," said a government official who asked not to be named. "In the strict respect of the agreements reached, everything concerned by the PNDDR will be done. The government isn't there to make agreements and then fail to honour them. We want peace, nothing but peace."
A major step was taken when the reclusive Father Ntumi late last year left the Pool, where he had been dug in for 12 years, to take up a post offered to him in Brazzaville by the authorities.
The former rebel chief arrived in the capital at the end of December to be "delegate general tasked with the promotion of the values of peace and with reparations for the sequels of war" in Sassou Nguesso's cabinet.
For Clement Mierassa, president of the Front of Parties of the Congolese Opposition, "Mr Ntumi's emergence is a positive act of peace".
"But in the Congo, peace isn't summed up in his status. We have to stop creating militias and buying weapons," Mierassa said, referring to a recent shipment of North Korean arms intended for Brazzaville.
This shipment was intercepted and seized by South African authorities in February, and announced as a breach of UN sanctions imposed against North Korea last June after it carried out an underground nuclear test.