Aug. 6 (GIN) – One year after a weapons depot blew up in the Ouenze district of Brazzaville, destroying homes and taking some 240 lives, the government has charged local soldiers with arson and harming state security.
The disaster initially caused fingers to be pointed at the government which had failed to relocate the munitions facility despite the large number of families in the immediate vicinity.
The blasts were so powerful they devastated the surrounding area and blew out windows in Kinshasa, the capital of the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo across the Congo river.
More than 2,300 people were injured in the Mar. 4 tragedy at the Mpila munitions depot. Hundreds of homes, churches, businesses and government buildings were flattened. Some 17,000 were left homeless.
Members of an inquest into the explosion initially suspected faulty electric wiring. But according to the Republic of Congo prosecutor Essamy Ngatsé: “This theory no longer holds.”
At least 30 people have so far been arrested and charged, among them 23 military officers who were said to have breached state security and committed arson. But their case files have, for a long time, been circulating between various offices of the judiciary, including the court of appeals and the Supreme Court.
“If the trial proceeds based on this cacophony that we have observed, it’s hard to believe that it will be a just and fair trial,” said Roche Euloge Nzobo of the Congolese Observatory for Human Rights.
According to the South Africa-based Institute for Security Studies, the Brazzaville explosion is unlikely to be an anomaly in Africa, as there are many more inappropriately managed arms and ammunition stockpiles in most African regions. These stockpiles will continue to present major risks to civilian communities if the problems associated with them are not urgently addressed.
Colonel Marcel Tsourou, former deputy secretary general to the National Security Council, is among the defendants. His wife Charlotte Tsourou called the officer’s indictment political but declined to provide further details.
Meanwhile, thousands of people remain homeless one year later, according to the U.N. news agency IRIN. “We have not relocated all those affected to date. We are relocating them gradually, as we are building houses on selected sites,” said Emilienne Raoul, the Republic of Congo minister for humanitarian action. w/pix of lawyers for accused soldiers