A mysterious fire in Republic of Congo this week destroyed property belonging to President Denis Sassou Nguesso. The origin of the fire was not officially determined, recalling a similar murky blaze in January, which led to the death of journalist Bruno Ossébi.
The blaze occurred on Monday while the president was visiting his native province in the north of the country, according to local journalists. Shortly before 8 p.m., a fire erupted in a warehouse in Sassou Nguesso’s home village of Edou, 220 miles (355 kilometers) north of the capital, Brazzaville, according to local journalists and news reports. Two vehicles and paraphernalia destined for the president’s re-election campaign this year were destroyed, according to several journalists who were at the scene. The origin and circumstances of the fire have not been determined, they said.
Independent Congolese journalists said little information was available, even from official sources. Republic of Congo government spokesman Alain Akouala declined to elaborate beyond the basic details of the case when contacted by CPJ.
The February fire that destroyed Ossébi’s home and killed three others has triggered an official investigation. The probe, led by a special magistrate, is pending, although it is not clear whether findings will be publicly released.
In our special report, CPJ urged Congolese authorities to consider all leads in Ossébi fire, including possible motives linked to his activist journalism. Ossébi’s last article, “Oil for a Handful of Dollars,” described alleged corruption in the government’s management of Congo’s oil wealth. He also covered a sensitive lawsuit involving three African leaders, including Sassou Nguesso.
The Congolese government has sent mixed signals about its efforts in the Ossébi fire. Akouala declared the fire accidental in a recent interview with Radio France Internationale–a comment that seemed to undercut the pending investigation.