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Thursday, 16 May, 2002, 19:03 GMT 20:03 UK
Disaster threatens Congo
Congo-Brazzaville is on the verge of a humanitarian disaster after weeks of fighting between government and rebel forces, United Nations officials have warned.

The UN representative in Brazzaville, William Paton, says tens of thousands of civilians have been either displaced by the conflict, or trapped in the war zone without food or medical supplies.


We don't want to make the same mistakes as... in 1998

William Paton
UN
Mr Paton, who was speaking at a news conference, said the UN was in a position to deliver aid, but that it was being prevented from doing so by the military authorities.

He urged both sides to allow access.

The UN believes more the 40,000 people have been displaced in the Pool region, south of the capital, and in neighbouring areas.

Casualties

On two occasions, William Paton said, the UN had tried unsuccessfully to reach Kindamba, in the western Pool, where more than 5,000 people have been stranded by the fighting between the government army and the rebels, who call themselves the Ninja militia.

A government newspaper, La Nouvelle Republique, reported this week that 12 people had died in Kindamba because of the lack of aid.

The UN has 3,000 tonnes of food and emergency medical kits for 30,000 displaced people in Congo.

Militiaman surrounded by dead bodies
Many people were killed or displaced during the last war

But Mr Paton said that two months into the conflict, the military authorities had still not allowed access to the area for "security reasons".

"We don't want to make the same mistakes as at the time of the civil war in 1998 and 1999. We only had access to civilians eight or nine months after the fighting began. In the meantime, civilians died of illness and hunger," he said.

The present conflict started when Ninja rebels attacked a passenger train in reprisals after the alleged dispatch of army reinforcements to the Pool.

The Ninjas belong to a rebel movement which refused to sign the 1999 peace agreement, which put an end to the civil war.

Election to go ahead

The rebels have taken at least two prisoners, a general and a priest.

Two weeks before the beginning of the conflict, President Denis Sassou Nguesso was re-elected with an overwhelming majority.

Mr Sassou Nguesso had been widely expected to win after his main challenger, Andre Milongo, withdrew, alleging electoral fraud.

The party of exiled former Prime Minister Bernard Kolelas, who has his stronghold in the Pool region, has asked for the legislative election, scheduled for 26 May, to be postponed in the region.

But the government in Brazzaville has said that the poll will take place everywhere in the country as planned.

See also:

10 Apr 02 | Africa
Thousands flee Congo capital
02 Apr 02 | Africa
Deadly attack on Congo train
10 Mar 02 | Africa
One-man race in Congo poll
10 Mar 02 | Africa
Congo poll lacks key candidate
22 Feb 02 | Africa
Timeline: Republic of Congo
27 Mar 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Republic of Congo
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