Congo leader admits economic crisis, appeals to ex-rebel chief
Congo's President Denis Sassou Nguesso admitted Monday that his oil-rich country was facing a serious economic crisis, though he said it was not an "irreparable disaster".
He notably called on former rebel chief Frederic Bitsamou, leader of the so-called Ninja rebel group and accused of violence against communities in the south of the country, to turn himself in to the authorities.
The public debt of Congo, a small central African country of 4.5 million people, represents 117 percent of its GDP, according to the International Monetary Fund, which recently said that Brazzaville had hidden part of its debt from the IMF.
"Our country has real difficulties, nobody should hide them," Sassou Nguesso said in a speech broadcast on the 57th anniversary of the country's independence.
"These difficulties started out as financial. Today they have spread into the economic and general areas," he added.
"The crisis into which Congo has been plunged since 2014, with all of the exporters of commodities, notably oil, continues to generate harmful effects."
"Budgetary receipts and public investments are falling constantly. Almost all sectors of the national economy are effected by the recession."
But while the country's situation is "worrying... we are not in an irreparable disaster," he said, adding: "We are neither insolvent, nor bankrupt. The crisis will be overcome."
In his message to the nation Sassou Nguesso, who has led Congo for over 30 years, stressed the importance of peace, which has been tested by violence in parts of the southern region of Pool since April 2016.
Bitsamou, alias Pasteur Ntumi, and the former fighters of his Ninja rebels fought two civil wars against the government in the 1990s, and were seen as having disbanded after agreeing to a peace deal in 2003.
"Once again, I ask Frederic Bitsamou to hand himself in to our country's judicial authorities, to cut short the suffering of innocent communities," the Congolese president said.
According to Congo's government and the UN, at least 138,000 people have been affected by fighting and insecurity in the Pool region.
The 73-year-old Sassou Nguesso, a former paratrooper, served as president from 1979 to 1992, and then returned to power in 1997 following a civil war. He won two successive terms in elections in 2002 and 2009, both of which were disputed by opposition parties.