April 15, 2016 / 4:11 PM / 2 years ago

Congo copter attacks displace civilians, destroy buildings, bishop says

BRAZZAVILLE (Reuters) - Helicopter attacks against former militia fighters in southern Congo Republic have destroyed buildings and caused many residents to flee, a Catholic bishop said on Friday.

The bombardment in the Pool region has gone on for about 10 days. It is not clear if anyone has been killed, Louis Portella Mbuyu said in an interview on Radio France Internationale.

“The bombings have ...forced and precipitous displacement of the population,” said Mbuyu, the bishop in Kinkala, the regional capital. “Again this Wednesday, there were some bombings not far from (the town of) Kinkala.”

Witnesses said a primary school was struck last week but no one was hurt, Mbuyu said.

The Congolese government says it is attacking military bases linked to Frederic Bintsamou, better known as Pastor Ntumi, who led a militia that fought President Denis Sassou Nguesso during and after a 1997 civil war.

The authorities blame Bintsamou and former militiamen for raids on military, police and local government offices in the capital, Brazzaville, on April 4, in which 17 people died. The violence followed a contested presidential election last month.

Sassou Nguesso, who has ruled oil-rich Congo for 32 of the last 37 years, won the March 20 poll with 60 percent of the vote. Opposition candidates dismissed the results as fraudulent.

In a statement earlier this week, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra‘ad Al Hussein said he had received “very alarming reports” about operations against opposition leaders and supporters following the elections. The accusations include mass arrests, torture and killings.

Zeid said reports from the Pool were difficult to verify because of lack of access to the area, which lies around 70 kilometers (45 miles) southwest of Brazzaville.

On Friday, a group of former ministers, a presidential adviser and local activists denounced the bombings at a news conference in Brazzaville.

Tresor Nzila, executive director of the Congolese Observatory of Human Rights, said he could not reach the targeted areas when he visited the Pool last week but questioned the need to bomb a militia that officially disarmed over a decade ago.

“It’s bizarre,” he told Reuters. “The army is present in the Pool. The gendarmerie and police are there as well.”

Additional reporting and writing by Aaron Ross in Kinshasa; editing by John Stonestreet and Joe Bavier

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