Monday, November 15, 1999 Published at 13:17 GMT
Brazzaville soldiers kill returning refugees
By West Africa correspondent Mark Doyle in Brazzaville
War-displaced civilians trying to return to Brazzaville, the capital of the West African state of Congo-Brazzaville, are severely persecuted and in some instances killed by government army troops on the edge of the city.
About half of the population of Brazzaville - some 250,000 people - fled fighting early this year between government and rebel forces. Some are now returning home.
President Denis Sassou Nguesso has the military upper hand in the Congo-Brazzaville war, but his soldiers, mainly from northern ethnic groups, are far from winning hearts and minds here in the south where the capital is situated.
Those who sought refuge in the jungle are now returning home, but this means passing through government army roadblocks to regain their homes.
At one notorious checkpoint on the outskirts of the capital, soldiers demand money and threaten to kill if the refugees refuse to pay.
Sometimes, the threat is carried out. On one day last month for example, eight young men were summarily executed.
Early this month, four people were made to dig their own graves and only escaped by paying the equivalent of $50.
These are just a few incidents that I was able to confirm during a short visit here. But others like them happen every day.
The aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres says the rape of young girls is systematic and that arbitrary executions are commonplace.
The authorities say tight security is necessary to catch potential rebels. While this may be true, the actions of some northern government soldiers against innocent southern civilians have exacerbated the ethnic tension which has characterised all phases of the Congo-Brazzaville war.
Southern-based opposition militias have also committed widespread human rights violations.