Congo PM holds crisis talks after army mutiny kills five



Mark Huband in Abidjan

The Guardian, 22 January 1992

Congo’s prime minister emerged from hiding yesterday and held emergency talks with government ministers after mutinous troops killed up to five pro-democracy demonstrators and thousands barricaded streets in the capital in protest at army demands that the reformist administration be dismissed.

Sources in Brazzaville said soldiers refused to allow the prime minister, Andre Milongo, access to the radio and television station under their control since Sunday, unless he agreed to their demand for his resignation. Mr Milongo pre-recorded a statement asking people “to remain calm and not to give in to provocation”. He denied he had fled the capital on Sunday when the mutiny began.

Demonstrations in the city delayed meetings planned between Mr Milongo and the ruling High Council of the Republic, the country’s transitional national assembly, which were scheduled for yesterday afternoon.

The Army High Command yesterday threatened to use force to remove barricades of tree trunks, wheel rims and burning tyres, erected by a crowd of over 2,000 people to prevent soldiers moving into the residential suburb of Bacongo. The protestors said they would take orders only from Mr Milongo. An. army statement said: “The army is ready to use force to put an end to all agitation and banditry.”

Demonstrations on Monday left up to five dead, the interior minister, AlexisGabou, confirmed yesterday, while Brazzaville’s main hospital put the figure at three. A university professor was hit by a stray bullet, and others died in a hail of shots fired at demonstrators in Bacongo.

One witness in Bacongo telephoned that troops had fired after protesters tried to set fire to two of their jeeps. Earlier reports said the soldiers attacked when the crowd refused to stop marching.

Last week, the council criticised Mr Milongo, considering a censure motion against him for refusing to negotiate with rebel troops who briefly occupied Brazzaville airport on Friday. They were demanding the reinstatement of officers fired last week, and the dismissal of the junior defence minister, Col Michel Gangouo. Mr Milongo has insisted the sackings were necessary to eliminate tribalism in the army.

According to military sources in Brazzaville, it is Cuban-trained members of the elite presidential guard who are leading the revolt. They form only a fraction of the 8,000-strong army, although they are being led by the chief of staff, Gen Jean Marie Michel Mokoko, a close confidant of President Denis Sassou-Nguesso, who has remained silent throughout the crisis.

In his statement yesterday, Mr Milongo accused France of spreading misinformation about the mutiny, though the French government has refused to comment.


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