BRAZZAVILLE, Republic of Congo (AP) — Heavy gunfire rocked the capital of the Republic of Congo on Monday, soon after Congolese security forces encircled the home of a high-ranking officer recently charged with complicity in a military arms depot fire and explosion that claimed 200 lives.
An Associated Press reporter saw police officers set up a security cordon around the house of Col. Marcel Tsourou, former deputy secretary of the country’s powerful National Security Council. He was removed from his post following the March 2012 explosion, and lawyers for the Republic of Congo’s government said he set the fire as a pretext for leading a coup d’etat.
Several armored personnel carriers were parked on the colonel’s street, and an Mi-8 military helicopter circled overhead. The police asked businesses in the area and government offices to close. Residents living nearby said they were instructed to fetch their children from school, and evacuate to another part of the city, as gunfire rang out, and a convoy of United Nations vehicles was seen speeding toward the area.
“I just got my two children from the Henri Lopez Institute, under orders from an official at the school,” said Rosine Ngouala, a cashier at a local pharmacy.
Tsourou was sentenced in September to five years of forced labor for the arms depot explosion on March 4, 2012. The fire consumed the armory, setting off a shower of war-grade weapons, including rockets, airplane bombs and missiles, which flattened a one-square-mile area of the capital, entombing people inside their homes. Tsourou has always maintained that he was falsely accused, and his five-year sentence was immediately suspended, allowing him to return to his home.
By midday, the shooting had become sporadic.
Authorities have refused to comment on the matter, and Congolese state radio continued its normal broadcast.
Associated Press writer Rukmini Callimachi contributed to this report from Dakar, Senegal.