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Wednesday, November 17, 1999 Published at 15:12 GMT

World: Africa

Anarchy in Congo-Brazzaville

A UN report says tens of thousands of women have been raped and more than 500,000 people have been made homeless during fighting between government and opposition forces in the West African state of Congo-Brazzaville.

The BBC's Mark Doyle reports: "Several senior rebel figures signed the peace agreement"
The revelations come as the government says it has reached an accord with rebel militias backing former President Pascal Lissouba and former Prime Minister Bernard Kolelas to end a year-long insurgency.

The UN report, not yet made public but seen by the BBC, reveals the anarchy existing in rural areas of the south, where opposition militias say they are fighting against what they call the northern-based dictatorial regime of President Denis Sassou Nguesso.

The report says that both sides have been running amok in some areas, with fertile rural parts of the country being depopulated because farmers have been terrified by armed gangs.

The report speaks of a whole generation of youth which has resorted to a life of plunder and extortion.

Aid workers and other independent sources in the country say that both sides have committed atrocities against innocent civilians in what they describe as Africa's forgotten war.

Peace deal?

The government issued a statement after four days of talks in the Atlantic port of PointeNoire, Congo-Brazzaville's second city saying the militias had agreed to lay down their arms.

There would be a new law granting those who surrendered an amnesty.

However, Mr Kolelas speaking from abroad dismissed the agreement as a "sham" saying those who signed the agreement were not members of his militia. "It's a put-up job. You won't resolve this crisis with a lie," he told the BBC.

About half the population of Brazzaville - some 250,000 people - fled fighting early this year.

Those who sought refuge in the jungles near Brazzaville and who have been trying to return have faced persecution by soldiers at army roadblocks.

The war began in the early 1990s as politicians manipulated ethnic tensions and formed heavily armed militias.

The UN report suggests a bleak outlook for the country unless the war is resolved.

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