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Sassou-Nguesso claims victory in Congo


Lissouba, in hiding, says he's still president

Latest developments: October 16, 1997
Web posted at: 2:49 p.m. EDT (1849 GMT)

REPUBLIC OF CONGO (CNN) -- Former military dictator Denis Sassou-Nguesso claimed victory Thursday over President Pascal Lissouba, saying he controlled most of the oil-rich Republic of Congo.

"We have control over nearly the entire country, we have total control of the political capital (Brazzaville) and the economic capital (Pointe-Noire). For us the war is over," Sassou-Nguesso, 54, told Radio France Internationale.

The four-month power struggle between the two men has killed thousands of people in the former French colony.

A L S O :

The rise and fall and rise of Denis Sassou-Nguesso

In Brazzaville, Red Cross workers were clearing bodies from areas that had long been inaccessible due to the fighting. Gunfire was reported overnight in the Atlantic coastal town of Pointe-Noire, the country's second-largest city.

Sassou-Nguesso, the country's military ruler for 12 years until his 1992 election defeat, was to address the nation Friday from his northern home town of Oyo, his spokesmen said. Sassou-Nguesso told Radio France Internationale he hoped to announce a new government within a few days.

France acknowledges rebel victory

France also said Sassou-Nguesso had emerged the victor, despite a claim by Lissouba that he was still the legitimate president.

Lissouba and his government fled Brazzaville after Sassou-Nguesso's Cobra militia captured the capital.

"Power is now in the hands of Sassou-Nguesso," French Secretary of State for Cooperation Charles Josselin told Europe 1 radio.

Lissouba won't admit defeat

Lissouba said Thursday he still regarded himself as the legitimate head of state, even though the forces of his rival controlled most of the country.

"I can only regard myself as president, since I have not seen in front of me my successor, elected democratically as I was," Lissouba told Radio France Internationale in a separate telephone interview from an undisclosed hideout.

Lissouba said he barely escaped being killed when the presidential palace in Brazzaville was attacked. "I was at home in the palace when they fired missiles that could easily have killed me," he said.

Prime Minister Bernard Kolelas, whose "Ninja" forces remained neutral for most of the conflict before joining Lissouba's cause, fled to the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly Zaire, with some of his ministers.

No room for expatriates seeking refuge

On Wednesday in Pointe-Noire, Western expatriates sought refuge at France's consulate and in hotels as Sassou-Nguesso's forces scoured the city for supporters of the ousted president.

A consulate official, the only international mission in the city, said people were being turned away because there was no more space in the walled compound overlooking the ocean.

Expatriates, mainly in the oil business, left their homes and sought safe haven in hotels, but industry sources said there was no apparent threat to Congo's oil production, which is mainly off-shore.

Despite the overnight gunfire Pointe-Noire "there is no need for an evacuation," French Foreign Ministry spokesman Yves Doutriaux said in Paris, noting that no violence was directed at civilians.

Nevertheless, about 300 French marines in neighboring Gabon were on alert in case French nationals had to be evacuated, a French defense ministry spokesman said.

U.N. action unlikely, for now

On Tuesday, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan asked the Security Council to slap an arms embargo on the Congo Republic and take steps toward setting up a U.N. peacekeeping force.

But U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard acknowledged Wednesday that with Sassou-Nguesso's victory there was "no peace to keep," and that the United Nations lacked the means or the mandate to send troops to impose a truce.

Sassou-Nguesso's militia has received help from Angolan troops well-trained for combat after a 20-year civil war in their own country. Lissouba's army mainly comprises soldiers recruited after he won the country's first multi-party election in 1992.

While Angola's government has never admitted involvement, witnesses consistently have reported the presence of Angolan government troops on Sassou-Nguesso's side, to counter Angolan rebel support for Lissouba.

UNITA rebels reportedly are backing Lissouba in hopes the Republic of Congo can replace the former Zaire as its main arms conduit. Angola's government troops, in turn, were prompted to take sides on behalf of Sassou-Nguesso to block possible Lissouba assistance to UNITA.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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