Briefing Note on the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville)
3 December 1999

From the time of the Eighth Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Harare (December 1998), the WCC has paid particular attention to the situation in t he Republic of Congo (Brazzaville) and has been in regular contact with the Ecumenical Council of Christian Churches in the Congo (COECC) and the member churches (1). At the Assembly, the participants from the RC gave a detailed account of the serious incident, which occurred on 14 Nov. 1998 during a reconciliation mission of the COECC, in which six of the nine members of the delegation were killed.

The present troubled situation in the RC is the result of a decades-long history of political and military power struggles. In June 1997 fighting broke out between militias (2) loyal to (then) ex-President Sassou Nguesso and the forces of (then) President Lissouba. The conflict ended on 15th October 1997 with the victory of Nguesso over Lissouba; the former installed himself as President, the latter went into exile where he was joined later by Kolelas, former Mayor of Brazzaville and former ally of Nguesso. On 18th December 1998 (i.e. when the Harare participants from the RC were traveling back to Brazzaville), the militias of Lissouba and Kolelas attacked certain quarters of Brazzaville. Nguesso's militia and the army responded, driving the civil population out of the area to the Pool, a region south of Brazzaville. Their action continued into the months of January and February 1999, obliging hundreds of thousands of people to seek refuge in the forests, without any protection. Countless atrocities were committed by the militias on both sides of the conflict and the army. Since May of this year fighting has been less intense, but the civil population continues to be victim to a state of total insecurity and anarchy and to suffer wanton killing, rape, and looting at the hands of uncontrolled militias and army troops. For a few months the government has been encouraging the internally-displaced persons (IDPs) and the refugees in neighbouring countries (Congo-Kinshasa and Gabon) to return to Brazzaville. "Humanitarian corridors" have been created, which however, according to IDP witnesses, are far from safe. There are persisting reports that young men have been selected from groups of returning refugees and have been executed by the hundreds. The actions of the Nguesso's militia and army have taken an ethnic character. Some speak of deliberate 'ethnic cleansing' against the entire population of the south.

There is no point in accusing one side over against the other. All parties in this conflict are equally guilty of gross violations of human rights and untold suffering of the civil population. Adding to the tragedy is that the international media keep silent and no serious efforts are made by the international community to force the parties to a negotiated solution. The most plausible explanation is economic interest, i.e. oil. Elf Company and the French government have obvious reasons to support Nguesso.

The churches in the Republic of Congo have a long record of working ecumenically for civil peace. In spite of some diverging views on the recent situation they continue to stand together through the Ecumenical Council. The WCC, the All Africa Conference of Churches, the Mission Covenant Church of Sweden and related Evangelical Free churches in Norway and Finland, and the French Protestant Federation have endeavored to lend support, by alerting the media, urging governments and international bodies to intervene and providing relief aid.

In order to enhance concerted ecumenical action, the WCC convened a meeting on 29-30 November 1999 which took place in Paris and was hosted by the French Protestant Federation (see attached statement). A report will become available soon.

Geneva, 2nd December 1999.

(1) The churches which form together the Ecumenical Council of Christian Churches in the Congo (Conseil oecuménique des Eglises chrétiennes du Congo - COECC) are:

Roman Catholic Church (Episcopal Conference)
Evangelical Church of Congo
Orthodox Church (Patriarchate of Alexandria)
Kimbanguist Church
Salvation Army
Evangelical Lutheran Church of Congo

Of these, the Evangelical Church of Congo is a member church of the WCC, the Orthodox Church is a member through the Patriarchate of Alexandria and the Kimbanguist Church through the Church of Jesus Christ on Earth by His Special Messenger Simon Kimbangu with international headquarter in Kinshasa.

(2) There are several militias and armed factions in the Republic of Congo. The most important are the Cobras (loyal to President Sassou Nguesso), and the Cocoyes and Ninjas which obey Lissouba and Kolelas.

Peace and Humanitarian Action in Congo-Brazzaville
Statement following the consultation organized by the World Council of Churches in Paris
en français

On 29 and 30 November, the World Council of Churches, in collaboration with the French Protestant Federation, convened a consultation in Paris on the situation in the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville). It was attended by delegates from the Ecumenical Council of Christian Churches of Congo, the French Protestant Federation, Free Churches in Sweden, Norway and Finland, the All Africa Conference of Churches and the World Council of Churches.

The people of the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville) are experiencing an unimaginable tragedy as a result of a fratricidal war in which atrocities of the worst kind have been committed both by the militias and by the public forces of order (pillaging, humiliation, rape, murder). Vast sections of the population have fled into the forests, cut off from any form of help. The people are in a state of total disarray and destitution.

There are some voices calling for peace, and we are particularly touched by those of the women who, with the children, are the first victims of this war. We want to let all these cries of suffering be heard, despite the blanket of silence that prevents international opinion from being informed of this human tragedy. This was the first objective of our meeting.

It is our duty as churches in France, in the Nordic countries, the Congo and in the worldwide ecumenical fellowship to echo this appeal for peace. We are ready to do all in our power to make it heard.

We welcome the peace initiatives that have been taken to date. But, once again, we fervently urge the principal warring parties to come to a negotiating table without further delay. We believe this negotiating table should be offered by a trusted international partner, acceptable to all and of guaranteed neutrality, who could undertake to accompany any peace agreements that might result from the negotiations. Under the leadership of the World Council of Churches, our churches are ready to accompany the implementation of this process and to follow it through to the end.

We draw attention to a desperate humanitarian emergency to which the response of international aid has so far been cruelly inadequate. We call upon the Congolese government and the international aid agencies to prepare a response in keeping with the scale of the people's distress.

We direct this appeal first to our own emergency aid instrument, ACT (Action of Churches Together), urging it to join in actions already started, notably by the Free Churches of the Nordic countries and other bodies present in Congo. We appeal to all parties in the conflict to guarantee safe passage for the transport and distribution of humanitarian aid.

In the situation of distress confronting us in the Republic of Congo we draw inspiration from the biblical vision of Psalm 85:

"Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
righteousness and peace will kiss each other"
(Psalm 85:10).
Nonetheless, we accept that we must begin by bringing an end to the suffering, addressing the immediate needs and restoring trust.
It is for the Congolese people to effect the work of truth and reconciliation.

30 November 1999

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