Brazzaville - The authorities in Congo-Brazzaville on Wednesday reacted with anger to comments by the United Nations which accused the country of forcibly returning tens of thousands of people to neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.
"The Republic of Congo is surprised by these rude comments," said Communications Minister Bienvenu Okiemy.
He aimed his comments at Martin Kobler, head of the UN's Monusco mission in DRC, who had earlier in the week expressed his concerns about the actions of the government in Congo-Brazzaville, as the UN urged the authorities there to stop the deportations which were causing a humanitarian crisis.
Speaking on national television, Okiemy accused Kobler of being "reportedly inspired to make these allegations by his accredited colleagues in Brazzaville".
In a statement published on Monday, the UN said Congo-Brazzaville had deported more than 130 000 DRC nationals since April 4, creating an "acute humanitarian crisis".
"The United Nations has received reports of physical abuse, ill treatment, and sexual violence inflicted on the citizens of DRC who are being expelled," read the statement.
Kobler also claimed he had "heard numerous testimonies of victims of gross human rights abuses and cruel treatments".
These included "children drowning in the river during their forced crossing".
Illegal foreign workers
The UN called on Brazzaville to "investigate the allegations".
Police in the capital Brazzaville launched an operation on 3 April to drive out illegal foreign workers.
The prime targets of this drive have been citizens from neighbouring DRC, whose capital Kinshasa lies on the other side of the Congo river from Brazzaville.
According to several rights organisations and witnesses’ accounts told to AFP, the operation rapidly degenerated into a violent witchhunt against "Zairis" - Zaire is the former name of the DRC - sometimes with the support of the local population.
Faced with such violence from the police and population, thousands of refugees from the DRC returned home, in many cases abandoning everything they had in Brazzaville.
Brazzaville says it has arrested 2 000 refugees from the DRC and claims that others went home voluntarily.
Both Brazzaville and Kinshasa agree that around 130 000 citizens have returned to the DRC since the beginning of April, although the flood of people leaving has slowed down in the past 12 days.
According to Okiemy, more than 400 000 people from the DRC remain in Congo-Brazzaville, many in low-paid jobs.