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President, former dictator agree to cease-fire

July 5, 1997

BRAZZAVILLE, Congo (AP) _ The Republic of Congo’s president and his chief rival agreed Saturday to halt fierce clashes that have paralyzed the capital for a month, their spokesmen said.

Though relative calm had returned to the city by noon, heavy weapons fire could be heard near the airport and downtown by late afternoon.

``President Pascal Lissouba has accepted the cease-fire proposed by international mediators,″ said presidential spokesman Gregoire Lefouoba. ``Now, we must give time to the international mediation to resume in Libreville.″

A mediation committee has been meeting in Libreville, the capital of neighboring Gabon. The panel announced a truce a week ago, saying it was part of a peace plan that included proposals for a government of national unity to prepare for and oversee presidential elections, as well as the deployment of foreign peacekeepers in Republic of Congo.

But fighting has continued and neither man has said publicly that he has agreed to the cease-fire.

``The president Denis Sassou-Nguesso, in the national interest, is not opposed to the cease-fire,″ said Francois Ibovi, a spokesman for the former dictator. ``He emphasized that the cease-fire must allow for negotiations to put into place a transition period directed by a government of national unity.″

Several truces have been struck and quickly broken since June 5, when Lissouba sent troops to disarm the private militia of his longtime rival. Lissouba said he wanted to avoid any disruption of presidential elections scheduled July 27; Sassou-Nguesso claimed the president picked a fight so he would have an excuse to delay the vote.

International Red Cross officials, meanwhile, warned of a looming health crisis in Brazzaville. The northern sector of the city has been cut off by fighting and residents there are without water or electricity. Thousands others have fled into the surrounding countryside.

``For the time being, the situation is still under control,″ said Red Cross spokesman Paolo Dell’Oca. ``But there is a risk of things deteriorating dangerously if thousands of people remain in the forest for many weeks.″

He said the heavy fighting still has not permitted Red Cross workers to survey the capital for a death toll.

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