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Cablegate: Brazzaville in Brief: December 10, 2009

DE RUEHBZ #0345/01 3441042
R 101042Z DEC 09




E.O. 12958: N/A


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In this issue:


-- Over 77,000 Flee Fighting in DRC

-- Chevron Uncovers Theft

-- HIPC Debt Relief May Come in January

-- Bollore Assumes Control of Pointe Noire Container Port

-- Sassou Launches Two Books, Prepares For Copenhagen

Over 77,000 Flee Fighting in DRC


1. (U) According to the GROC, there are now 77,488 displaced
persons in camps spread along the Congo-Brazzaville bank of the
Oubangui River, primarily in the Likouala region. Reports on
both sides of the border indicate that what began as an ethnic
conflict has now evolved into an organized rebellion against the
government of the DRC. UNHCR Brazzaville reports that the
militiamen have moved to within 60 kilometers of Gemena, DRC as
part of an effort to consolidate and expand the area they
control. As the geographic scope of the fighting has widened the
flight across the Oubangui River into Congo-B has started anew.
In the last two weeks, an additional 30,000 people have fled the
violence in the Equateur Province of the Democratic Republic of
Congo to Congo-Brazzaville. Unlike the group of displaced
persons who fled to Congo-B in the first week of November, there
have been no wounded in the latest group. According to UNHCR,
these people are not fleeing attack; they are fleeing because
they are afraid of being caught in the crossfire of the GDRC
response to the rebellion. The total number of displaced is now
over 77,000 and their camps extend over more than 500 kilometers
from the town of Liranga at the confluence of the Oubangui and
the Congo rivers all the way North up the Oubangui to the border
with the Central African Republic. UNHCR Congo-B expects the
number of displaced will grow as people continue to flee across
the river to the relative safety of Congo-B.

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2. (U) Despite concerted efforts by both the UN and the GROC to
respond to this crisis, the situation in the Likouala region
remains alarming. The UN has already dispatched nearly 1000 tons
of food and non-food aid to the region and distribution is
underway in the major camps. The UN and GROC are preparing a
barge for shipment up the river with 15,000 liters of fuel and
an additional 300 tons of food. These important contributions,
however, will inevitably fall short of reaching the growing
needs of a large displaced population in an insecure and
isolated region. During a recent meeting with the Ambassador,
the World Food Program representative reported that many
children in the camps are sick with malnutrition because their
only source of food has been crushed cassava leaves. Prior to
the recent cross border movement, the population of the Likouala
region is estimated to have been 67,000. The population has more
than doubled, and the displaced now outnumber the native
population. The UN reported that the GROC has considered
measures to relocate some of the displaced back across the river
to alleviate the stress on the native population of Likouala.
Insecurity in the region further complicates the humanitarian
response. Two DRC militiamen were recently arrested in the ROC
with 1,200 liters of gas that they were trying to move across
the river. UNHCR reports that three armed men presumably en
route to the Equateur Province in the DRC were arrested in
Impfondo, ROC on November 8. In addition, there have been
several reports of violence and even kidnappings in the camps
carried out by DRC militiamen who crossed into the ROC.

3. (U) Without a renewed commitment to meet the growing needs in
the region, conditions will continue to worsen. The European
Union is set to provide some two million Euros in additional aid
via the World Food Program and UNHCR later this week. The
Italian Embassy in Brazzaville has also recently contributed
about 300,000 Euros in emergency aid. Efforts to find more

BRAZZAVILL 00000345 002.2 OF 003

lasting solutions, however, continue to be complicated by the
lack of an official declaration of refugee status for the
displaced. Without the official refugee declaration, UNHCR is
somewhat constrained in what it can provide to the displaced.
UNHCR continues to request that the GROC make the declaration,
and reports that they expect to have a decision of refugee
status before December 16. (Comment: There are reports that the
GDRC is pressuring the GROC not to make the official
declaration. Another possibility is that the GROC does not want
to provide refugee status because it is concerned that this will
encourage the displaced to stay in Congo-B. End comment.)

Chevron Uncovers Theft


4. (SBU) Chevron is currently caught in a legal dispute that is
preventing several of its employees from leaving the country. In
the process of preparing for the sale of a downstream asset, its
retail gas stations that carry the Texaco logo, Chevron recently
uncovered a theft of approximately $10 million USD involving
some of its own employees and those of French-owned bank BCI.
Chevron turned the case over to the authorities, which launched
an investigation that resulted in the arrest of several of
Chevron's local employees. Meanwhile, a judge in Brazzaville
launched a parallel investigation, which has resulted in the
reported harassment of several Chevron employees. Chevron would
like to send these employees out of the country, but the local
authorities have thus far prevented them from leaving, citing
the ongoing investigation. (Note: Some of these employees are
expatriates, but none are American citizens. End note.) The
Ambassador has been in frequent contact with the head of Chevron
operations in Congo, and spoke with Minister of the Interior
Raymond Mboulou on December 9 to express concern about the
treatment of Chevron employees and to request that the two
investigations be reconciled. The Ambassador is currently
seeking a meeting with the Minister of Justice.

HIPC Debt Relief May Come in January


5. (SBU) The visiting World Bank/IMF Highly-Indebted Poor
Country (HIPC) debt relief team informed the Ambassador December
4 that Congo may achieve debt relief by January of 2010. There
will be a debt relief board meeting to discuss Congo's case
during the third week of January. The IMF team noted that the
Congolese have made progress in all areas and said "it is a done
deal." According to the team, the Congolese have made the recent
progress in the commercialization of oil trading. At the request
of the IMF/World Bank team, the Congolese will in January
dissolve COTRADE (which was headed by President Sassou's son).
The national oil company, SNPC, (not its subsidiary COTRADE)
will now be responsible for oil trading on Congo's account,
under newly-designed standardized commercial procedures for
trading oil and using a new database to track trades. The
government has also reportedly implemented a new accounting
system for audits of the oil sector and should soon be finished
with an audit of 2008 oil revenues. In other areas outside of
the oil sector, the government has adopted a new procurement
code, standard bidding documents, an operational procurement
manual, and a training program. In the forestry sector, the
government has proposed fiscal amendments that would return more
revenue to local communities and would require a greater
percentage of finished wood products as opposed to raw material.

6. (SBU) Comment: It was clear from this meeting that the
IMF/World Bank officials want to finish this process now so that
Congo may achieve debt relief. They appeared convinced that
additional cooperation from the Congolese may not be forthcoming
if the government does not achieve debt relief as a result of
its efforts. The officials are aware that once debt relief comes
there is significantly less incentive for the Congolese to
follow through on these reforms. End comment.)

Bollore Assumes Control of Pointe Noire Container Port

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7. (SBU) During a visit to the port of Pointe Noire December
1-4, the U.S. Coast Guard had the opportunity to view the
newly-privatized container port operated by the private French
consortium the Bollore Group since December 1, 2009. Bollore has
named the new container port "Congo Terminal" and has already
put in place a computerized tracking system for all of the
containers in the port. Next steps include deepening the port
to 15 meters, adding 30 percent to the length of the existing
dock so that four container ships may offload at once, and
adding a jetty on the ocean side of the container port. Bollore
sees Pointe Noire not only as a regional hub, but as the primary
point of entry into Central Africa. By 2016 Bollore will take
over the entire container port area, including land that is
currently occupied by a flour mill that is owned and operated by
the American company Seaboard, under the local name MINOCO
(reftel). During separate conversations, both Bollore and the
Port Director insisted that Seaboard must move the mill,
claiming that the loss of operating space won't allow Bollore to
fully implement its plans for mechanized operation of the port.
Bollore said it intends to erect fully automated cranes so that
forklifts will no longer be required anywhere in the container
port. For its part, Seaboard told the visiting team that it
intends to request that the government provide a suitable
alternative, such as a sizable tract of land adjacent to Total
Oil's Djeno facility, so that it may tap into the natural gas
lines in order to power the mill and an industrial-sized bakery.
(Comment: Having just completed the privatization of the flour
mill, Seaboard understandably feels that it has just purchased
something that immediately lost much of its value. End comment.)

Sassou Launches Two Books, Prepares For Copenhagen

--------------------------------------------- --------

8. (U) President Sassou launched two new books this week, one on
sustainable development and climate change ("L'Afrique, Enjeu de
la Planete"), and another based on a parable `the tree of the
ancestors' ("Gondwana et l'arbre des Ancetres"). Fortunately
neither of these books pretends to have a foreword written by
Nelson Mandela, or anyone else. (Note: The scandal over Sassou's
previous book "Straight Speaking for Africa" has largely passed,
with a visit to Brazzaville by Tokyo Sexwale, who noted that
some of the statements made in the foreword can be attributed to
a speech Mandela made in Cape Town in 1996. However, the claim
that Mandela actually wrote the foreword, or even endorsed it in
advance, as stated on the book's cover, was not accurate. End
note.) With the publication of these books, President Sassou
appears to be vying to gain profile in advance of the climate
change summit in Copenhagen later this month. According to the
Foreign Ministry, Sassou will attend the climate change
coordination meetings hosted by President Sarkozy in Paris
before traveling to Copenhagen. Based on his public statements
and comments by government officials, it is not clear what
position Sassou will take on climate change in Copenhagen,
beyond a general plea that countries in the Congo basin should
be compensated for not cutting down tropical forests. Sassou may
also highlight the land he has set aside for national parks over
the years, and measures his government has put in place to track
and control timber exports.

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