Congo-Brazzaville Gripped by Widening Violence

Bishop Louis Portella of Kinkala Raises Alarm

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ROME, MAY 23, 2002 ( The Republic of the Congo, racked by violence between rebels and government troops, is facing an ever-widening disaster, a bishop warns.

«For the past two months, the Pool region has been shaken by violence, which above all strikes the weakest,» Bishop Louis Portella of Kinkala said in a document sent to the Misna agency.

The bishop, whose city is some 60 kilometers (37 miles) west of Brazzaville, was commenting on the tragic situation in the republic, also known as Congo-Brazzaville, in a document sent to the Misna agency.

For weeks the Pool area inside Brazzaville has been the theater of violent confrontations between «ninja» rebels — militias linked to former Prime Minister Bernard Kolelas — and government troops.

«I appeal to the Congolese and international community, and to all those who love this country, to put an end to the violence as soon as possible,» the bishop implored.

He also warned of the risk of a wider disaster. «The present military operations are causing a different effect from what they intended,» Bishop Portella said. «They should strike the rebels; instead, they are aggravating even more the situation of an already extremely poor population. Because of the bombings, very many have seen their own crops destroyed.»

Worse still, military men have impeded humanitarian convoys from delivering aid. For security reasons, the government has prohibited international organizations from entering the zone, Misna sources say.

At least 40,000 people are estimated to have fled Pool. «There are very many youths who have been obliged to find refuge in the forest,» Bishop Portella said.

Other youths comprise most of the «ninja,» and violence is spreading. In recent days, the first refugees from Madzia, Majunbu, Yokama and Reneville arrived in the capital, localities which previously were considered safe.

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