Fighting erupts at Congo airport
French troops prepare to leave
June 15, 1997
Web posted at: 4:05 p.m. EDT (2005 GMT)
BRAZZAVILLE, Republic of Congo (CNN) -- The militia loyal to
former Republic of Congo dictator Denis Sassou-Nguesso began
shelling government troops at Brazzaville's international
airport Sunday morning, while French forces tried to wrap up
an evacuation mission and begin pulling out.
The intensified fighting effectively broke a cease-fire that
was called on Wednesday and cast a shadow over peace talks
that were scheduled to begin in Gabon Monday.
(French troops see faraway guns firing - 410 K / 7 sec. QuickTime movie)
The mortar fire continued throughout the morning, as
Sassou-Nguesso's Cobra militia moved two T-55 tanks --
apparently only one of them working -- closer to the airport.
Government troops, loyal to President Pascal Lissouba, fired
"They (the militia) are using 100mm mortar and firing at the
army positions at the air base at the far side of the
airport," said French army spokesman Col. Henry Pelissier.
Pelissier said the French had no plans to join the shooting
unless they were directly attacked.
About 1,200 French troops, with 60-70 people waiting for
evacuation at the private Aeroclub pilot's club next to the
airport, had hoped to dismantle their base Sunday and
begin pulling out.
The French have evacuated more than 5,000 people since
fighting began June 5, when government forces tried to disarm
Sassou-Nguesso's militia in advance of next month's
Talks set to begin in Gabon
Representatives on both sides were to begin arriving Sunday
in Libreville, Gabon, for talks hosted by Gabon's president,
Omar Bongo. The two sides agreed earlier this week on the
meetings, aimed at securing the peace and ensuring elections
set for July 27.
Both Lissouba and Sassou-Nguesso -- Lissouba's predecessor at
the republic's helm -- are running for president in the
"We must do everything to ensure that the elections are held
within the delays foreseen in the constitution," said U.N.
special envoy Mohamed Sahnoun after talking with envoys from
all sides. "Democracy must definitely be put back on track."
Lissouba sent his army to disarm Sassou-Nguesso's militia
earlier this month, fearing they would try to disrupt the
elections. But Sassou-Nguesso accused Lissouba of trying to
delay the elections himself by stirring up trouble where
there was none.
Both sides have tentatively approved the idea of an
international peacekeeping force. Lissouba told Africa Number
One radio that he favors an African force, "possibly led by
France with whom we are used to working." Sassou-Nguesso said
he wanted guarantees that the force "does not become
There was no indication that the talks would be postponed in
light of Sunday's fighting. Officials hoped the talks, which
resulted from a lower level meeting Saturday, would bring
about a summit between Sassou-Nguesso and Lissouba.
Correspondent Catherine Bond and Reuters contributed to this report.
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