15,000 refugees in Gabon to be repatriated to Congo Brazzaville
- UN Integrated Regional Information Networks June 24, 2003 Brazzaville
Sixty Republic of Congo refugees arrived in Point-Noire on Friday at
the start of a repatriation programme for some 15,000 of them in
neighbouring Gabon, city officials reported in a communiqué.
The Prefecture of Kouilou in Point-Noire, the highest civil authority
in the city and its surroundings, reported that the first 60 refugees
were flown into the city because roads were impassable.
However, it said that other refugees would be bused home during the
dry season from July to October. They will make the 700 km journey
from Tchimanga, in the Haut-Ogooue area of southeast Gabon, to Point-
Noire, from where they will be taken to their villages.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said it would
provide each returning refugee with 50,000 francs CFA (US $91.50).
The agency, ROC, and Gabon are due to meet on Monday to organise the
repatriation by the least expensive method. Thousands of Congolese
fled their country during the 1997-2001 civil war.
- and already has a pact with Gabon to use its airports for refueling.
By ERIC SCHMITT The New York Times WASHINGTON, July 4
The United States military is seeking to expand its presence in the
Arab countries of northern Africa and in sub-Saharan Africa through
new basing agreements and training exercises intended to combat a
growing terrorist threat in the region. Even as military planners
prepare options for American troops to join an international
peacekeeping force to oversee a cease-fire in Liberia, the Pentagon
wants to enhance military ties with allies like Morocco and Tunisia.
It is also seeking to gain long-term access to bases in countries
like Mali and Algeria, which American forces could use for periodic
training or to strike terrorists. And it aims to build on aircraft
refueling agreements in places like Senegal and Uganda, two
countries that President Bush is to visit on his five-nation swing
through Africa that begins on Tuesday.
There are no plans to build permanent American bases in Africa,
Defense Department officials say. Instead, the United States
European Command, which oversees military operations in most of
Africa, wants troops now in Europe to rotate more frequently into
bare-bones camps or airfields in Africa. Marines may spend more time
sailing off the West African coast.
This fall the command will send trainers to work with soldiers from
four North African nations on patrolling and gathering intelligence.
Some plans are still on the drawing board and will need the approval
of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld or his top aides. But other
military initiatives in Africa are already under way or will soon
begin. Since late last year, for example, more than 1,800 members of
the American military have been placed in Djibouti to conduct
counterterrorism operations in the Horn of Africa.
The military's commitment and costs in Africa would still be low
compared with missions in the Persian Gulf or Korean Peninsula, but
commanders say emerging threats require the Pentagon to pay more
attention to the continent. "Africa, as can be seen by recent
events, is certainly a growing problem," Gen. James L. Jones of the
Marine Corps, the head of the European Command, said in an interview
this week. "As we pursue the global war on terrorism," the general
said, "we're going to have to go where the terrorists are. And we're
seeing some evidence, at least preliminary, that more and more of
these large uncontrolled, ungoverned areas are going to be potential
havens for that kind of activity."
United States military and intelligence officials say vast swaths of
the Sahara, from Mauritania in the west to Sudan in the east, which
have been smuggling routes for centuries, are becoming areas of
choice for terrorist groups, including Al Qaeda. General Jones said
an allied maritime armada in the Mediterranean had forced
international drug smugglers, weapons traffickers, Islamic
extremists and other terrorists south to overland routes through
The countries in the area are some of the poorest in the world and
have scant resources to monitor their borders or patrol the large
remote areas of their interiors. "What we don't want to see in
Africa is another Afghanistan a cancer growing in the middle of
nowhere," said Maj. Gen. Jeffrey B. Kohler of the Air Force, the
European Command's director of plans and policy, who is to visit
Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria this month. "That's what we're trying
Since the end of major combat in Iraq the United States has diverted
reconnaissance aircraft and satellites to watch the region more
closely and share that information with governments there, a senior
military official said. The signs of Al Qaeda's presence are still
emerging and, in some cases, under debate. Intelligence analysts are
examining potential Al Qaeda links to suicide bombers who attacked
five targets in Casablanca, Morocco, in May. Al Qaeda has already
been tied to an attack on a synagogue in Tunisia in April 2002 that
killed 21 people, and the car bombings of the United States
Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, in which 224 people died.
There are also home-grown terrorist organizations, which some
officials say have connections to Al Qaeda, like the Salafist Group
in Algeria, which abducted more than 30 European tourists earlier
this year. The group has about 750 hard-core members, but its
affiliates and sympathizers number in the thousands, intelligence
officials say. "These are groups that are similar to Al Qaeda, but
not as sophisticated or with the same reach, but the same
objectives," said Gen. Charles F. Wald of the Air Force, the
European Command's second-in-charge. "They're bad people, and we
need to keep an eye on that." In a sign of Africa's growing
prominence, General Wald, who led American air forces in the Afghan
war, now spends about half of his time on African-related issues.
The European Command is preparing to hold a conference of the
defense attachés from United States embassies on the continent
increasingly, ambassadors as well, General Jones said. The
military's entreaties to expand and deepen ties to Africa are
receiving largely positive responses from many of those
countries. "We are very much interested in expanding our cooperation
with the U.S. in civilian and military fields," said Idriss Jazairy,
Algeria's ambassador to the United States. "We would be ready to
cooperate in training African antiterrorist teams to address this
But some Africa experts warn that the Pentagon, which promotes the
idea of democratization in other Arab states, ought not compromise
those values by dealing with governments with heavy military
influence, like Algeria. "The downside of this is that you can take
on the agenda of local leaders," said Herman J. Cohen, who was
assistant secretary of state for Africa in the administration of the
first President Bush.
The military's renewed focus on Africa pre-dates Mr. Bush's trip,
and is part of an effort by the European Command to reshape where
and how many American troops are based in a 93-country area of
responsibility that arches from South Africa to Russia. That review
is a portion of a global effort by the Defense Department to
determine where to position United States forces.
General Jones said he envisioned what he called a family of bases.
In Africa this would include forward-operating bases, perhaps with
an airfield nearby, that could house up to a brigade, or 3,000 to
5,000 troops. "It's something that could be robustly used for a
significant military presence," General Jones said. A second type of
base would be a forward-operating location, which would be a lightly
equipped base where Special Forces, marines or possibly an infantry
rifle platoon or company could land and build up as the mission
required. "Over all, we're trying to come up with a more flexible
basing option that allows more engagement through our area of
responsibility," General Jones said.
The Pentagon made early strides a few years ago, when it negotiated
agreements with Ghana, Senegal, Gabon, Namibia, Uganda and Zambia to
allow American aircraft flying through the region to refuel at local
In the fall, the Defense and State Departments will begin a $6.25
million program to provide training, as well as radios and Toyota
pickup trucks, to company-size army units in Mauritania, Mali, Niger
and Chad. "If we do this we can make friends who, when they get
information out on patrol, can share with us," said one senior
American Special Forces and the Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade have
conducted joint exercises with Moroccan troops in the last three
years, and military officials say they would like to expand and
increase those contacts.
- A lifelong collection of rare Gabon history from the l9th and 20th
centuries has been donated to Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS)
by an alumn, the Rev. Dr. Henry Hale Bucher, Jr., a Texas educator.
Bucher said he intentionally spent many decades collecting West
African books, especially about Gabon. Many of the books are written
in African languages, including Mpongwe, Benga, Kele and Fang, and a
large quantity are in their original wrappers, some cloth-bound or
Bucher's quest to intentionally compile an intact and representative
collection required decades of traveling across Europe, Africa and
the USA. "History is usually written by the colonizers or occupiers,
so I concentrated on collecting and recording the history and
perspectives of the indigenous people of Gabon, especially the
Mpongwe up to l860," he said.
The difficulty of finding written records about Gabon in the l960s
increased Bucher's commitment to create an intact collection of
scholarly information, including the earliest grammars, dictionaries
and Bible translations. They were gathered from across Africa,
Europe and the USA over more than four decades.
The collection also includes items with no fair market value, but
great scholarship value, such as copies of unpublished manuscripts.
Future additions to the collection will include photographs and
audio recordings of oral histories,and records of slave ships and
"The real value of this donation is about creating a foundation for
future research about Gabon," said Bucher, whose dissertation was
written about "The Mpongwe of the Gabon Estuary: A History to l860".
PTS already has one of the more outstanding U.S. collections of
material about Dr. Albert Schweitzer, who also worked in Gabon.
Bucher's unpublished dissertation about the Mpongwe up through l860
details clan lineages of many individuals with whom Nassau and
Schweitzer worked. It also draws and contrasts information from
traders, ship captains, explorers and diplomats.
After graduating from the American University of Beirut (BA) and
PTS , Bucher Jr. completed a MA and Ph.D. in Comparative World
History (Africa and the Middle East) at University of Wisconsin -
Madison. During this time he spent several years living in Gabon,
first as a Frontier Intern in Mission working under the newly
independent Gabon Evangelical church, co-sponsored by the
Presbyterian Church, the Paris Mission Society, and the World
Student Christian Federation, and later under a Fulbright-Hays grant
for research in Gabon. Bucher's work put him in frequent touch with
Dr. Albert Schweitzer, who was working out of the hospital founded
by Presbyterian missionary Dr. Robert Hamill Nassau.
Bucher's students often hear him say: "We make a living by what we
get. We make a life by what we give." Through his donated archives
Bucher says he hopes future Gabonese and Gabonologists will increase
their knowledge of and respect for African lives, culture and
contributions to the world.