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Congo Brazzaville's Nguesso Names Ex-Rebel to Government


Congo Brazzaville's President Denis Sassou Nguesso confirmed the appointment of a former rebel chief to the government. Last month the two former warring sides agreed to disarm and bring rebel leaders out of hiding. Phuong Tran has more from VOA's Central and West African bureau.

The president's office says Frederic Bitsangou, the former leader of the rebel group known as the Ninjas, will be a minister in charge of peace and reconciliation efforts for a country still recovering from civil wars that killed thousands and displaced about a quarter of the population.

The peace accord signed last month formally ended the revolt, but the rebel leader was holding out for an official position as the price for disarmament. The home of the Ninja movement, southwest of the capital, had the heaviest fighting during the war and still is considered by many to be unsafe.

Congo Brazzaville analyst Paul Mely is skeptical President Nguesso's announcement will lead to true reconciliation. He says it is hard to know how to gage the popularity of the former rebel leader, who is also known as Pastor Ntumi.

"It is going to depend on whether the fighters loyal to Ntumi are prepared to give up their arms and be integrated into the military forces," he said. "There is skepticism about Ntumi himself. Some people feel Ntumi is just a tool, effectively sponsored by Nguesso to create a rebellion the government can either repress or negotiate with. They feel he does not have a genuine political basis."

Mely says most of the Ninja fighters also have a deep mistrust of the government. He says almost none of them accepted the government's offer of amnesty in exchange for disarmament under the first peace deal in 2003.

Under last month's peace deal, 250 Ninja fighters are to join the national army. Ntumi may retain a 60-strong armed personal guard.

The second condition Mely says needs to be met for a successful reconciliation is government willingness to invest in the south.

Many residents there have felt repressed by the government during the civil war, and Mely says the region is still volatile. He says naming Ntumi is going to improve the government's image abroad.

"The government has a big interest in giving him a job. They have had a difficult time on their external image," he added. "The donors remain pretty skeptical about Congo even if they are supporting it. The human rights record is one of the key factors."

The World Bank is investing almost $90 million in Congo, whose economy is almost entirely dependent on oil revenues.

The French government is investigating whether Congolese officials were involved in torturing and killing hundreds of civil war refugees who vanished in 1999 when trying to return to Brazzaville.