Red Cross suspends operations in Congo for security problems

The international Red Cross said Thursday it had suspended activities in a southern region of the Republic of Congo, citing the worsening security there and threats made against humanitarian workers. "The organization believes that the situation is currently too dangerous for its staff to continue working in the department," the International Committee of the Red Cross said in a statement.

The ICRC said it suspended activities last week "for an indefinite period" in the region of Pool, a rebel stronghold, after threats were made against its staff. The organization also mentioned two incidents from last year, citing the "general worsening of security conditions."

The region has long been the stronghold of the so-called Ninja rebels, who named themselves after ancient Japanese warriors and took up arms in the late 1990s. Pool had remained largely quiet since a 2003 peace deal, but lawlessness has reportedly been on the rise recently.

"By suspending its activities, the ICRC intends to draw the attention of the authorities to the deteriorating security conditions, which have jeopardized its humanitarian work and, above all, disrupted the daily lives of the department's inhabitants," the Geneva-based group said.

The Ninjas agreed in 1999 to a cease-fire that ended two years of fierce fighting that included artillery barrages in Brazzaville, the nation's capital. After President Denis Sassou-Nguesso won a 2002 presidential race that international observers deemed fair, the rebels took up arms again, but fighting ended with a new peace deal in March 2003.

The Ninjas vowed to disarm after the accord, but the rebels have been blamed for continuing violence, including ambushing trains, and failing to lay down their weapons. A renewed government effort to uproot them in Brazzaville resulted in violence in October.

The Red Cross said it hoped to resume its humanitarian work in Pool once security conditions had improved. "The ICRC is fully aware of the consequences that its decision will have for the civilian beneficiaries of its programs and is currently endeavoring to meet with all the authorities concerned to enlist their support in restoring adequate security conditions," the organization said. The group has been working in the Republic of Congo since 1993, providing aid to civilians affected by armed violence. It had been particularly active in the Pool region since the country's latest civil war and had seven international delegates working there, reports the AP. N.U.