BRAZZAVILLE, Aug 15 – The Republic of Congo’s newly elected President Denis Sassou Nguesso announced plans Friday to pardon the country’s former head of state as he was sworn in for a fresh term.
Sassou Nguesso said ministers would draw up an amnesty for his old foe and former president Pascal Lissouba who was convicted of cheaply selling off the country’s oil.
Lissouba was forced out of power in 1997 by militias loyal to Sassou Nguesso during a civil war.
"I will charge the government with drawing up and bringing before parliament, before the end of the year, an amnesty bill for president Pascal Lissouba," said Sassou Nguesso.
The announcement was the leader’s first act of his new seven-year term, made at an inauguration ceremony in capital Brazzaville which was attended by 13 foreign leaders.
Those attending the inauguration ceremony included Angolan President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos, Benin’s Thomas Yayi Boni, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Thomas Kabila and Mali’s Amadou Toumani Toure.
Former colonial power France was represented by Development Minister Alain Joyandet.
The president was re-elected on July 12 in a vote that was widely disputed by his opponents.
Sassou Nguesso, 66, who has run the smaller of west-central Africa’s two Congos for a quarter century, won the poll with 78.61 percent of the vote.
At Friday’s ceremony, he thanked voters for re-electing him and said the decision would ensure a "regime of peace, stability and security which we have restored together, as our country was teetering on the brink".
He also urged an end to dependence on handouts: "Let us put a stop to thinking like those on benefits, freeloaders, people who constantly receive favours."
One of Africa’s longest-serving leaders, the president’s current run at the head of oil-rich Congo began in 1997 when he seized power in a civil war.
He first stint in power stretched from 1979 to 1992.
Lissouba, who is 78 and lives in exile in France, became president in 1992 when he won Congo’s first democratic elections.
He was convicted in 2001 to 30 years hard labour and ordered to pay a 25-billion CFA franc (38-million euro) fine for selling oil cheaply during his presidency.
At the time, a Congolese barrel of oil cost three US dollars while the price on international markets fluctuated between nine and 12 US dollars.