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Country Reports
REPUBLIC OF CONGO, Landmine Monitor Report 1999


Mine Ban Policy

Congo-Brazzaville has not signed the Mine Ban Treaty. It was not an active participant in the Ottawa Process, though it endorsed the pro-treaty Brussels Declaration of June 1997, and voted for pro-ban UN General Assembly resolutions in 1996 and 1997. Diplomats explain that the politico-military crisis which began with the 1997 civil war has pushed the issue down the political agenda.[1] In addition, it is possible that current head of state Denis Sassou Nguesso is reluctant to give up the weapon under present tense circumstances.

In the months after his defeat of elected predecessor Pascal Lissouba, Sassou has steadily lost control of areas of the country and has become increasingly reliant upon the support of Angolan forces from across the border in the Cabinda enclave. Other military forces present on Congolese territory are thought to include Rwandan army units, exiled Rwandan Hutu Interahamwe, fighters from the Democratic Republic of Congo, including former members of late Zairian president Mobutu Sese Seko’s feared Division Spéciale Presidentielle, and possibly even Chadian elements.[2]

Production, Transfer, Stockpiling

While Congo-Brazzaville is not known to have produced or exported antipersonnel mines, it has them in its arsenal and has used them, most recently in the 1997 civil war. It is highly likely that not only the formally constituted national armed forces—now in a state of considerable disorganization—but also the various militia aligned with major political players have access to stocks of landmines.[3]


Landmines were used widely by both sides during the 1997 civil war. In Brazzaville itself, the strategically sensitive areas around the airport and the city’s main power station were heavily mined, reportedly with both AT mines and AP mines. Other utilities had unmarked minefields laid around them.[4] The residential quarters of Poto-Poto and Mikalou were also affected, although it is thought this was more by contagion and carelessness than by concerted deployment.[5] Information is considerably thinner where provincial regions are concerned.

Before and during the 1997 civil war, both Lissouba and Sassou reportedly constituted major weapons dumps in their respective strongholds of Dolisie (in the Nibolek region of the south) and Oyo. Although it is near-certain that landmines figured in these caches, there is no documentary proof. The French government became sufficiently alarmed by both sides’ use of AP mines in September 1997 to warn publicly against the use of the devices.[6]

Although the front lines in Brazzaville were heavily mined during the battle for the city, the problem is thought to have been relatively minor in and around Pointe Noire, the port city and oil capital. The sheer speed of the Angolan advance out of the Cabinda enclave led the Lissoubaiste garrison to surrender virtually before a shot was fired. It is thought unlikely that they had time to lay mines, even if they possessed them.

In the recent revival of conflict in southern Brazzaville and the Pool and Nibolek areas, there is as yet little hard information on the possible use of landmines, due in part to the sheer danger of field research. However, international representatives who remain in Brazzaville do not at present regard mine-laying as a significant problem.[7] The nature of the war has changed since the involvement in strength of Angolan forces: artillery barrages appear more central to their thinking than the use of mines.[8]

There are indications that major protagonists might consider deploying landmines if possible, however. On 8 March 1999, the U.K. daily newspaper the Mirror reported that ex-President Pascal Lissouba, in exile in London since his defeat by Sassou in late 1997, was shopping for armaments to launch attacks against his successor, and reproduced apparently convincing documentation for the assertion. Among the materiel being sought on the international arms market were 100 mines and accessories for what was described as a “Camp in Africa” and 1,000 mines for “Headquarters.” Interviewed by the Mirror, Lissouba “says he needs enough arms for a force of 2,000 men led by mercenaries.”[9]

The way the list was leaked raised the possibility that someone intended to damage Lissouba’s standing in the U.K.,[10] and it is not impossible that the publication of the episode was a calculated entrapment exercise mounted by anti-Lissouba interests in Paris or elsewhere. Sources close to Lissouba insist that he had no personal connection with the list and that, having decided to start equipping a force to secure Congo’s borders in the event of any future return to power, he merely delegated aides to canvass international equipment dealers as to what materiel was hypothetically available and at what price.[11] However, the ‘shopping list’ sits potentially uneasily with the declaration by Lissouba’s own government in June 1996 that Congo “has never produced” and “does not want to use” AP mines, and was in favor of a global ban on the devices.[12] Specified on the list are identifiable AP mine products.[13]

Mine Clearance

There is no overall survey of the mine problem in Congo-Brazzaville, although anecdotal evidence suggests that the problem is at its worst in Brazzaville itself. Many of the mines laid in 1997 have now been cleared with French assistance, but isolated mine incidents still reportedly occur.[14] Army engineers began clearing mines, with French assistance, immediately after Sassou Nguesso’s victory in October 1997. They began with emergency clearance work around the major ministries in the capital. In the words of one, “We had to carry out a big operation fairly quickly?before people returned to work.”[15] In late 1998, further clearance work was carried out around the airport, and civilian access to mined areas was carefully controlled.

The Sassou Nguesso government embarked on a series of announcements and public appeals to Brazzavillois by radio shortly after coming to power. In late 1998, Colonel Leonce Kabi, head of the army’s engineering corps, confirmed that he was receiving a weekly average of twenty notifications of the existence of AT and AP mines from members of the public.[16] Although clearance work after 1997 appears to have been relatively thorough in Central Brazzaville, the revival of hostilities in 1998 probably prevented more constructive efforts to repair damage and develop affected areas.

There are no available records on mine-related injuries during or the after the civil wars of 1993 or 1997. Neither is it possible to assess the impact of mines in the most recent phase of the conflict from late 1998 onwards.[17] Repeated fighting and artillery damage has wrecked Brazzaville’s medical infrastructure and has damaged national capacity for the treatment of landmine-related injuries.


[1]Telephone interview, U.S. diplomat, Brazzaville, 25 March 1999.

[2]Telephone interviews, political and military strategists, London, Paris, and Kinshasa, 25-31 March 1999.

[3]Telephone interview, defence analyst, Centre d’Analyse et Prévision, Paris, 29 March 1999.

[4]Congo: finding landmines proves tougher than laying them,” Inter Press Service, 22 August 1998.

[5]Telephone interview, Remy Bazenguissa, Paris, 31 March 1999. Bazenguissa is the foremost analyst of the various recent battles for Brazzaville and surroundings.

[6]France warns against the use of landmines in Congo,” Agence France Presse, 11 September 1997.

[7]Telephone interviews, U.S. and European diplomatic representatives, Brazzaville and Kinshasa, 26 March 1999.

[8]Telephone interview with Remy Bazenguissa, 31 March 1999.

[9]Gary Jones, “£40m list of death”, the Mirror, (London), 8 March 1999, pp.4-5.

[10]Look in The Mirror”, Africa Confidential, vol. 40, no. 6, 19 March 1999, p.8.

[11]Telephone interviews, representatives of exiled President Pascal Lissouba, London, 31 March 1999.

[12]Daniel Mouellet, chargé d’affaires, Embassy of the Republic of Congo, Washington D.C., Letter to Stephen Goose, Program Director, Human Rights Watch Arms Project, 11 April 1996, Letter number 0568/ARC/WDC.

[13]The list includes “50 training mines .Mon 50”, “50 mines .Mon 50,” “all accessories for Mon 100 like electrical wires-detonators-cord”, “blasting cap-pull fuze-foxhole,” “50 anti-pers training mines PMN,” and “50 Anti-tank training mines TM-46.” The relevant part of the list was supplied to Human Rights Watch by the Mirror on 1 April 1999. In the Mirror’s story, Lissouba’s representatives were linked to Labayfar, a well-known Belgian equipment supplier, which Mirror journalist Gary Jones alleges was potentially prepared to act as the clearing house for weapons of predominantly Russian origin. Contacted by Human Rights Watch in Brussels (telephone interview, 31 March 1999) Labayfar’s chairman, André Lafosse replied “certainly not” to a request for clarification on the nature and provenance of the shopping list.

[14]Inter Press Service, 22 August 1998.



[17]Telephone interview with unnamed Brazzaville resident, 25 March 1999.