Since its first democratic presidential election in 1992 – won by Pascal Lissouba – Congo-Brazzaville has endured periodic bouts of conflict, largely between the ethnic-based private militias of the three rival candidates. In June 1997, one month before the convening of a new presidential poll, government forces under Lissouba attempted to arrest members of a private militia led by General Denis Sassou-Nguesso, who was head of state prior to 1992. The fighting escalated to the level of civil war. In October 1997, Lissouba fled the country after Angolan military troops intervened in support of Sassou-Nguesso, who formed a new government. The Angolan intervention was reportedly in response to Lissouba’s fraternisation with the União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola (UNITA).
Despite reconciliation efforts, violence continued to erupt in Brazzaville and elsewhere in the country. During autumn 1998, Lissouba’s Cocoye militia and Bernard Kolélas’ Ninja militia carried out guerrilla-style sabotage attacks in southern Congo, mostly against civilians thought to be Sassou-Nguesso loyalists from the north. Sassou-Nguesso’s forces, for their part, instigated ‘mopping-up’ operations in an attempt to eliminate Lissouba’s supporters. Violence flared up again in December 1998 and in early 1999, when the Cocoye militia seized control of the Moukoukoulou hydroelectric dam, cutting off power to Pointe-Noire. In summer 1999, when electricity had been reinstalled in most regions, fighting concentrated on control of the railway connection between Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire. In November and December of 1999, the government signed peace agreements with the rebel groups. However, following the collapse of disarmament negotiations in March 2002, the Ninjas resumed its violent tactics. Almost a year later, on 17 March 2003, the Ninjas and the Government reaffirmed their respective commitments to the 1999 peace accord. Since then, relative calm has returned to the country, though a stable peace remains illusive.