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Brazzaville (AFP) Dec 16, 2013
At least six people were killed when a firefight broke out Monday in Brazzaville between soldiers and the bodyguard of a wanted high-ranking army officer.
An AFP reporter saw six bodies inside the colonel's residence after the gun battle, which sowed panic in the streets of the Republic of Congo's capital.
Gunfire broke out when soldiers came to arrest Colonel Marcel Tsourou, a former top government security adviser who was sentenced to five years' forced labour three months ago over a deadly blast at a munitions depot.
The bodies strewn across Tsourou's residence were in civilian clothes. One side of his house had collapsed as a result of the exchange of fire.
A helicopter circled above the compound in the morning and at one point artillery was fired, according to residents.
The exact circumstances of the clashes are not yet clear but Tsourou's bodyguard apparently offered resistance.
"Colonel Marcel Tsourou surrendered and is currently in the custody of the Congolese armed forces," police chief Jean-Francois Ndenguet told AFP.
An officer in the gendarmerie, a paramilitary police force, had said before the operation's denouement that the army had received orders to remove Tsourou from the government residence he was still occupying.
"By any means necessary, we have to make him leave today," the officer had said on condition of anonymity, explaining that Tsourou was no longer entitled to his residence.
Ndenguet had a different explanation and said that a vehicle involved in an attack on a police patrol on Sunday had been spotted at Tsourou's residence, prompting a search.
"Investigators came under fire, which amounts to clear case of militia activity. Hence the army's intervention," the police chief said.
Tsourou's wife however said there was more to the incident.
"All of these explanations are a smokescreen. They have their own reasons for coming after my husband," she told AFP without elaborating.
The heavy gunfire in the usually relatively peaceful city caused panic, with some residents holing themselves up in their homes and others attempting to flee.
Traffic was back to normal in Brazzaville after Tsourou's arrest but some residents, apparently fearing further military upheaval, could be seen moving to safer quarters with bundles on their backs.
According to an official toll, explosions at a munitions dump in the residential neighbourhood of Mpila on March 4, 2012 had left close to 300 people dead, 2,300 wounded and 17,000 homeless.
The accident, one of the worst in the equatorial country's history, had led to sentences for six military officers, including Tsourou.
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