Escalation of Congo civil war forecast
U.S. Embassy closing as peace eludes mediators
June 17, 1997
Web posted at: 10:05 a.m. EDT (1405 GMT)
BRAZZAVILLE, Republic of Congo (CNN) -- The battle for
control of this capital city's airport was expected to
escalate as a bloody power struggle led the United States on
Tuesday to plan for the closing of its embassy and the
withdrawal of personnel.
Supporters of Republic of Congo President Pascal Lissouba and
his rival and predecessor, Denis Sassou-Nguesso, have engaged
in political and ethnic fighting in Brazzaville for nearly
3-day truce announced
On Tuesday, the warring parties agreed to a three-day truce
that calls for a disengagement of troops around the
Brazzaville airport to allow for the safe landing of
commercial aircraft and aid supplies.
The cease-fire also would allow French troops to conduct a
withdrawal without having to fight their way out. Shortly
after the cease-fire was announced, gunfire could still be
heard in Brazzaville.
Also Tuesday, the country's planned July 27 presidential
election became the latest casualty of the bloody power
struggle. Lissouba acknowledged that the elections could not
take place on time as he had wished.
July elections 'not possible'
"The end of July will not be possible so long as people have
arms. ... Conditions do not permit it," Lissouba told Radio
France International, calling on officials to "fix another
Sassou-Nguesso also said conditions were not ripe for
elections, calling instead for "a good transition period"
that would ultimately lead to "credible elections" organized
by the international community.
Representatives of Lissouba and Sassou-Nguesso held talks in
Libreville, Gabon, for most of the day Monday but made no
progress in ending the conflict through mediation.
Laurent Viguier, a diplomat at the French Embassy in
Brazzaville, said more talks were planned at the French
Embassy in Libreville on Tuesday.
Diplomats from the United Nations, the European Union and
France were involved as mediators in the Gabon talks, as were
the presidents of Gabon, Central African Republic, Chad and
Mali; the prime minister of Equatorial Guinea; and Senegal's
French troops, U.S. personnel leaving
The two factions in the Republic of Congo's civil war were
facing each other across Brazzaville airport, now controlled
by French troops who have evacuated nearly 6,000 citizens of
France and other countries.
When French soldiers -- who began a withdrawal on Monday --
complained that bullets falling on the airport complex were
delaying their pullout, the fighting promptly subsided.
An all-out battle for the airport was expected once the
French withdrawal is completed later this week.
Col. Henri Pelissier, a French army spokesman, said the
Congolese factions were signaling their intentions with the
recent fighting. "We think each is telling the other: 'Be
careful, it's not over,'" he said.
U.S. State Department officials told CNN the security of U.S.
personnel in the country cannot be ensured once French forces
are gone. Washington plans to have all U.S. Embassy staff
out of the country by Wednesday.
An unknown number of U.S. Marines were at the Brazzaville
airport on Tuesday to help carry out the withdrawal of
Fighting erupted June 5 when the army surrounded
Sassou-Nguesso's home in a crackdown on private militias and
unauthorized arms prior to a presidential election scheduled
for July 27.
Sassou-Nguesso, who ran the country as a dictator for a
decade before Lissouba won an election, claimed the president
sparked the clashes to have an excuse to delay the vote and
keep power. Both men are running in the election.
Correspondent Catherine Bond and
Reuters contributed to this report.
Related sites:Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.
© 1997 Cable News Network, Inc.
All Rights Reserved.