Warm up at Beach trial in Brazzaville

25 July 2005 by SIMPLICE ONGOUYA

After a discreet opening at 6 p.m. on 19 July, which the plaintiffs had not been invited to attend, the trial known as the “disappeared of the Beach” finally got underway before the Brazzaville criminal court on 21 July. 16 officers, including four generals, faced charges brought by 76 plain-tiffs in connection with the disappearance of 353 refugees in May 1999. The refugees were fleeing the war in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in a boat that docked at the Brazzaville port. They were never heard from again. The authorities have always denied any involvement, but this politically sensitive trial should shed new light on the affair.

The Brazzaville courtroom was bustling on 21 July. The Congolese establishment occupied the front rows, with a packed public gallery behind. Attendees faced systematic searches at the entrance to the court, in spite of security measures verging on national alert that included a 350-metre security cordon and an impressive display of armed guards. Brazzaville residents turned up in force, encouraged by the cool temperatures of the 2 p.m. start. The prosecution had failed to implement the order to arrest and detain the accused, who appeared under their own steam. Heads turned at the arrival of the chief of police, flanked by an intimidating cohort of armed bodyguards. An unfazed court president, Charles Emile Apesse, called the accused to order: “For the next hearing, please leave your bodyguards outside.”

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