President Says Brazzaville's Foes Plot Return: Urges Hosts to Gag Exiles from Congo
President Denis Sassou-Nguesso of the Republic of the Congo spoke by telephone from Brazzaville last week with author and journalist Jacques Baudouin in Paris, where he is a consultant to Politique Internationale magazine.
The interview came after government troops drove a rogue militia from Brazzaville last month in three days of fighting.
The gunmen driven from Brazzaville in mid-December were diehard members of the militia of former Prime Minister Bernard Kolelas, who fled the country a year earlier with his sometime ally, ousted President Pascal Lissouba, after their defeat by forces loyal to Mr. Sassou-Nguesso in a five-month civil war. The militia infiltrated Brazzaville while Mr. Sassou-Nguesso attended a summit of the Organization of African States in Ougadougou, Burkina Faso, and dug up caches of heavy weapons hidden in 1997.
Question: Mr. President, more than a year after the fighting ended, Congo's former leaders, now in exile in France, Great Britain or the United States, seem not to have renounced violence. Can it be said with certainty that they are behind the troubles that have just broken out in Brazzaville?
Answer: Of course. Pascal Lissouba, Bernard Kolelas and former Finance Minister Nguila Moungounga-Nkombo have still failed to grasp that the Congolese want no more of them. While we have been busy rebuilding this country, they have been brooding about revenge, which they are most unlikely to attain, although they will stop at nothing to regain power, as their recent push has just demonstrated.
Q: What means do they have to launch operations on such a scale?
A: You should ask the observers and officials who have had the opportunity to meet them in Paris, London or Washington over the past year. Witnesses have all expressed astonishment at their lavish lifestyles, which have more in common with what former dictators like [the Philippines' Ferdinand] Marcos were able to afford than what ordinary political refugees can indulge in.
Where does all this money come from? Straight out of the Congo's state coffers. For years on end, this former ruling group plundered this country at will. You might go ask Mr. Lissouba and Mrs. [Claudine] Munari where they found the funds to buy that town house in Paris - not to mention their other real estate - from where they now launch appeals for revolt.
Q: You accuse the former president and his aides of plotting against you from abroad. On what grounds do you base such charges?
A: It is public knowledge that Pascal Lissouba and Claudine Munari have bought themselves the services of public relations offices with hosts of lobbyists, in France, Great Britain and in the United States, through which to churn out floods of propaganda against me and the government. They are trying to forge an image of themselves as victims and to mobilize support from foreign governments and media. Some have not turned a deaf ear.
For their part, Bernard Kolelas and Moungounga-Nkombo are spewing out a brew of hatred, steeped in the grossest distortions of truth, without being prevented in the least. All this organizing has been financed, I repeat, with funds stolen from this country.
The government has chalked up the account with accuracy, and it amounts to hundreds of millions of dollars. This provides the former leaders with means for a true war chest, where they can dip at will to pay for their militias, mercenaries and weaponry.
Q: How do you account for the failure of their show of force?
A: I see two main reasons. For one, which I consider the most important, the population in Brazzaville totally rejected the rebels. Contrary to what Lissouba and Kolelas might have hoped, they found no support here. Unfortunately, thousands of our fellow citizens found themselves trapped as hostages again, or suffered atrocities, just as in the worst times of our recent civil war. …