Some 40,000 refugees from Congo-Brazzaville were in Congo/Zaire at the end of 1997. An estimated 250,000 persons were internally displaced in Congo-Brazzaville. Congo-Brazzaville hosted more than 20,000 refugees at the end of 1997, including an estimated 20,000 from Angola and 1,000 from Chad. About 12,000 Rwandans, some of whom may have been refugees, were also in Congo-Brazzaville, living in refugee-like circumstances. Conflict in Brazzaville During 1997, fighting and artillery barrages between rival factions uprooted an estimated 750,000 or more Congolese, primarily residents of the capital, Brazzaville. After the fighting subsided in October, hundreds of thousands of Brazzaville residents returned to their shattered city. An estimated 250,000 Congolese remained internally displaced at year's end. Similar factional fighting struck the capital in 1993-94. In June, supporters of President Pascal Lissouba clashed in the streets of Brazzaville with supporters of former military ruler Denis Sassou-Nguesso. The conflict apparently began when the Congolese military surrounded Sassou-Nguesso's home, ostensibly to disarm his militia and to arrest "criminals" in the lead-up to a presidential election scheduled for July. The confrontation quickly escalated into all-out war, in which ethnically drawn political militias established makeshift barricades, creating a divided city. "The violence here is largely the result of a conflict between leaders whose ambitions know no limit and no decency," Mohamed Sahnoun, the joint UN-OAU envoy, remarked. Mediation efforts by Sahnoun and President Omar Bongo of Gabon produced numerous truce agreements, all of which were eventually violated by one party or the other, or both. Attempts to establish a peacekeeping operation, either under or outside UN auspices, failed. Indiscriminate bombardment, attacks on civilians, and looting characterized the conflict. Displaced persons reported assaults on civilians belonging to the ethnic group of "the other side." The fighting largely pitted the Congolese military and President Lissouba's private militia, composed of southerners, against Sassou Nguesso's militia, composed of northerners. The fighting reportedly drew in exiled soldiers from Rwanda, Congo/Zaire, and Central African Republic, Angolan government and Angolan rebel troops, and African and European mercenaries. Expatriate staff of international humanitarian organizations left Brazzaville when the fighting intensified, leaving Congolese Red Cross workers to collect corpses from the city's streets, where uncontrolled fighters prowled. The conflict reportedly killed thousands, primarily civilians. No Peacekeeping Force In late June, the UN Security Council authorized Secretary General Kofi Annan to explore the creation of a 1,600-strong peacekeeping force. In July, the Security Council agreed in principle to back deployment of a primarily African force to secure Brazzaville's airport, through which weapons were reportedly being ferried into the country. Incomplete adherence to truce agreements, however, made some Security Council members, particularly the United States, reluctant to finance a peacekeeping operation. In August, two months after the fighting began, the Security Council set three conditions for establishing a peacekeeping force: "complete adherence" to a "viable cease-fire," international control of Brazzaville's airport, and a "clear commitment to a negotiated settlement." To accelerate the international response, Sahnoun and Annan proposed sending an advance force outside the UN structure. The proposal languished and ultimately died, however, primarily for lack of U.S. support. Internal Displacement The fighting forced more than a half-million Brazzaville residents to flee. When widespread fighting spread to the north of the country in August, additional thousands were uprooted. While some Brazzaville residents sheltered in southern districts of the city or in nearby suburbs, others fled north of Brazzaville, to areas largely controlled by Sassou-Nguesso's supporters, or west, toward Pointe-Noire, on Congo's Atlantic coast, to areas controlled by Lissouba's fighters. By September, an estimated 150,000 displaced persons in the north were cut off from humanitarian assistance because of fighting in that region. About 300,000 displaced persons were believed to be in the country's southern provinces, including in the Pointe-Noire area. WFP began the first large-scale food distribution for displaced persons in Pointe-Noire on October 1. About 80,000 displaced persons were reportedly in the city at the time. By late September, only about 10 percent of Brazzaville's pre-war residents were still in the city, according to some reports. After Brazzaville's mayor, Bernard Kolelas, joined Lissouba's administration as prime minister, the southern neighborhood he controlled effectively lost its neutral status, and civilians who sheltered there were once again forced to flee. Refugee Flight Fighting in Brazzaville and in the north forced nearly 50,000 Congolese to flee the country, according to reports. In mid-August, attacks on major northern towns increased, causing small-scale refugee flight into neighboring Cameroon and Central African Republic. The advance of Sassou-Nguesso's forces on Ouesso, on the Cameroonian border, in August, reportedly pushed 400 Congolese into Cameroon. Smaller numbers of Congolese also fled to Central African Republic. In September, UNHCR chartered a plane to fly Congolese from Central African Republic back to Congo; the returnees were taken to Pointe-Noire, which later fell to Angolan forces that intervened on behalf of Sassou-Nguesso. Stepped-up bombardment in Brazzaville in mid-August forced thousands of Congolese to cross the Congo River to Kinshasa, capital of the renamed Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire). Kinshasa authorities reported the arrival of 8,000 refugees in a one-week period. The number of Congolese refugees in the Kinshasa area reportedly grew to 40,000 by October, and may have reached 50,000, according to some reports. Angola Intervenes The military situation in Brazzaville changed rapidly in October. Sassou-Nguesso's fighters won control of the Brazzaville airport; Kolelas's militia, formerly neutral, sided with Lissouba's forces. The most dramatic change, however, occurred when Angolan government forces openly intervened in support of Sassou Nguesso, changing the course of the war. Angolan government troops crossed into Congo, quickly overrunning Lissouba's forces, and Angolan aircraft bombed Brazzaville. On October 15, the Angolans took control of Pointe-Noire, the economic headquarters of Congo's important oil industry, and Sassou-Nguesso's militia declared victory in Brazzaville. The war was effectively over, at a cost of thousands of civilians dead and hundreds of thousands uprooted. Even after most of the fighting subsided, however, Angolan government forces reportedly battled Angolan UNITA rebels in an extra-territorial expansion of the long Angolan rivalry. Uprooted Congolese Return The easing of the security situation permitted UN humanitarian staff to return to Congo in November. A visiting mission of U.S. disaster-assistance experts estimated that about 200,000 people were then living in Brazzaville. On November 10, the UN appealed for $17 million to fund a three-month assistance program. WFP began its first post-war food distribution in Brazzaville on November 19. The agency reported that 60 percent of the capital's residents had returned to the city, but were facing "acute food shortages and outbreaks of diseases." Although most Brazzaville residents returned to their city by year's end, hundreds of thousands of Congolese remained internally displaced, especially in areas west of Brazzaville. Some of the more than 40,000 refugees known to have crossed the Congo River to Kinshasa also began to return home. During the last two weeks of December, about 1,500 Congolese repatriated from Kinshasa under UNHCR auspices. Returnees in the organized repatriation program received short-term WFP food assistance. Other Congolese refugees repatriated spontaneously. At year's end, an estimated 40,000 Congolese refugees remained in Congo/Zaire. Refugees from Angola, Chad Most of the estimated 20,000 Angolan refugees in Congo-Brazzaville fled from the northern Angolan enclave of Cabinda, where armed separatists have long battled Angolan government forces. The majority were "urban" refugees, living primarily in Pointe Noire. About 6,000 Angolan refugees lived in settlements outside Pointe Noire. Angolan refugees in camps outside the city were not directly affected by the fighting, according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. By some accounts, however, Angolan refugees were uneasy about the presence of Angolan troops, who intervened in Congo's civil war in October. Some refugees reportedly left their camps at night, preferring to sleep in forests in areas they believed were less vulnerable to attack by Angolan forces. Small numbers of Angolan refugees may have repatriated from Congo during 1997. The 1,000 Chadian refugees believed to remain in Congo at year's end comprised the largest group of the estimated 3,000 refugees who had lived in Brazzaville, the Congolese capital, at the start of 1997. Refugees in Brazzaville, like all Brazzaville residents, were greatly affected by the fighting there. Reports about their condition and location at year's end were incomplete. UNHCR reported that only about 100 refugees remained in Brazzaville following the fighting there. Rwandans Beginning in May 1997, about 15,000 Rwandans crossed into Congo-Brazzaville from neighboring Zaire (later renamed Democratic Republic of Congo), fleeing war in that country. Although some Rwandans may have had valid refugee claims, others likely participated in Rwanda's 1994 genocide, and thus were in theory ineligible for international refugee protection. Many Rwandans crossed the Congo River into Congo-Brazzaville near its confluence with the Oubangui River, more than 300 km upriver from Brazzaville, arriving near two Congolese towns, Liranga and Loukolela. ICRC and WFP provided emergency food rations to the Rwandans. By June, aid workers reported nearly 5,000 additional Rwandans at Djundu, north of Liranga. Congo wanted the Rwandans to repatriate prior to the Congolese election, scheduled for July, and, with the assistance of aid agencies, began to transfer Rwandans by barge to Bilolo, about 30 km north of Brazzaville. By early June, some 5,000 Rwandans had moved to the site. The outbreak of heavy fighting in Brazzaville in June, however, seriously disrupted the assistance program for Rwandans and delayed the start of repatriation. At the time, reported Rwandan populations included about 5,000 each at Bilolo, Loukolela, and Djundu, 2,000 at Liranga, and 500 at Mossaka, south of Loukolela. Rwandans were later reported at Impfondo, farther north. Rwandans fled from the Bilolo transit center, moving deeper inside the country, WFP reported. Some 1,300 Rwandans, accompanied by Burundians and Congolese/Zairians, entered Gabon. On July 5, UNHCR began repatriating Rwandans by air from Loukolela, returning nearly 1,000 during the month. The spread of fighting to the north in August forced UNHCR to suspend repatriation flights, however. When flights resumed later in the year, only about 500 additional Rwandans repatriated. In September, UNHCR reported that most Rwandans in Congo Brazzaville‹some 9,000‹were "under care" of the refugee agency in Liranga, Loukolela, and Djundu, and announced that it planned to screen Rwandans to determine who among them was ineligible for international refugee protection. Such screening did not occur, however, and about 12,000 Rwandans remained in Congo-Brazzaville in refugee-like circumstances at year's end. UNHCR continued to consider them prima facie refugees, pending screening results. Few Rwandans appeared willing to repatriate, preferring to remain in Congo-Brazzaville. Congolese authorities reportedly planned to allow Rwandans unwilling to repatriate to integrate locally. Asylum Procedure Individual requests for asylum in Congo ordinarily are examined by UNHCR's regional office in Kinshasa, Congo/Zaire. UNHCR forwards applications it views favorably to Congo-Brazzaville's National Committee for Eligibility, within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Heavy fighting in Congo-Brazzaville in 1997 prevented the committee from meeting during the year, however.

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