Rebels waging an insurgency in the Republic of Congo since 2002 are to hand over their weapons under a peace deal. The conflict has killed at least dozens and caused mass displacement.
The Republic of Congo on Saturday agreed a ceasefire with rebels in the southeast region of Pool, ending a 15-year conflict that forced tens of thousands to flee their homes.
The conflict escalated in April 2016 after a contested presidential election was won by 74-year-old President Denis Sassou Nguesso, who has ruled the country for 33 of the past 38 years.
Frederic Bintsamou, a militia leader better known as Pastor Ntumi, battled Sassou Nguesso during and after a civil war in 1997. The government has blamed him for deadly attacks on police, military and government bases. The so-called Ninja militants he led also erected blockades aimed at choking off trade in the Pool region.
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The government responded with bombing raids on the Pool region, including one helicopter attack in 2016 that killed at least 30 people, according to Amnesty International.
It's unclear how many people may have died in the years-long conflict. But more than 200,000 people were forced to flee their homes. The displacements prompted human rights groups to accuse government troops of abuse.
'Great day for the Congolese'
Interior Ministry security adviser François Ndé and Pastor Ntumi's representative, Jean Gustave N'Tondo, signed the peace agreement between the two sides.
"Today is a great day for the Congolese," said N'Tondo. "This is the day we have just signed the cessation of hostilities agreement."
N'Tondo assured respect for the ceasefire as long as the government helped resettle people in the region and reintegrated fighters.
The agreement calls for the militias to hand over their weapons and allow the free movement of trade between the capital, Brazzaville, and the commercial hub of Pointe Noire. During hostilities, rail and road traffic was often brought to a halt by the militias.
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The government will oversee a commission that will monitor the peace, and ease security in the Pool region to allow people to travel to and from their family homes.
bik/tj (Reuters, AP, AFP)