Date: Wed, 16 Jun 1999 12:03:13 -0500 (CDT)
From: email@example.com (Rich Winkel)
Subject: CONGO: Suspected European Terrorists Handed Over For Trial
/** ips.english: 521.0 **/
Suspected European Terrorists Handed Over For Trial
By Louis Okamba, IPS, 15 June 1999
BRAZZAVILLE, June 15 (IRS) - Four Europeans, accused of engaging in acts of terrorism, have been handed over to the Congolese authorities for trial by the French embassy in the capital Brazaville.
The four, who had been the subjects of manhunt by the Congolese police, are Richard Sara and Claude Herman, both French nationals, Gerard Latric, a Groat, and Fabio Vanotti, an Italian.
The four, who were handed over on Friday, escaped from the Directorate for Territorial Monitoring (ST) detention center on June 5, before taking refuge in the French embassy in Brazaville.
At a recent news conference in Brazaville, the Congolese Interior Minister, Pierre Oba, said the four "are mercenaries and part of a broad conspiracy to physically eliminate President Sassou Nguesso", whose troops are fighting rebel forces in parts of the country.
Oba said the "mercenaries had infiltrated petroleum industry in Pointe Noire, the country's economic hub".
The four were first arrested in April and brought to trial after "confessing" to their crimes.
The French embassy ceded to enormous pressure from angry Congolese youth and lengthy negotiations between the embassy and the Congolese authorities.
On June 7, more than 200 young people, chanting anti-French slogans, staged a sit-in in front of the embassy. A dozen nude youths burned a French flag before being dispersed by police.
Immediately after escaping from the detention centre, police units surrounded the embassy and prohibited all access until the suspects were handed over to the Congolese authorities.
The handover came after the French embassy and the Congolese government issued a joint press statement outlining a bilateral accord signed by the two countries on January 1, 1974 defining the "Congolese sovereignty, the rule of law, and consular protection".
"This resolution is intended to facilitate court proceedings, and to guarantee free and open trials, decent prison conditions, and the ability to receive visits from one's consul", the statement added.
The incident has strained the French-Congolese relations. Some Congolese have accused France of harbouring terrorists.
Opinions expressed on the state radio were even sharper, criticising the "contempt that westerners show for African countries".
"In their eyes, only Arabs or Africans can be terrorists. A white mercenary, even when caught red-handed, continues to enjoy the protection of his consulate", radio journalist, Volom Oboulas, claimed.
"We still remember the nine years of international embargo Libya suffered for refusing to hand its subjects over to western justice in the (1988) Lockerbie (Scotland) incident", Oboulas added.
The journalist also cited when the ambassador from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to France was summoned to Paris for trial after he had run over a child in a traffic accident. Oboulas says he finds it incomprehensible that Europeans should not also stand trial in Africa.
A trial date for the four has yet to be set.
[c] 1999, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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