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JOURNALIST DIES AFTER MYSTERIOUS FIRE

A reporter known for criticising the government and alleging high-level corruption has died of wounds sustained in a mysterious fire at his home in the Republic of Congo, reports the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Bruno Ossébi, a Congolese-French journalist who wrote for the online magazine "Mwinda", was badly burned in the fire on 21 January, although he was said to be recovering and his death was unexpected. His girlfriend and her two children were also killed.

Authorities have not provided any information on the cause and circumstances of the fire, which coincided with a similar fire at the home of exiled political dissident Benjamin Toungamani in France. Three days earlier, "Mwinda" published an interview with Toungamani in which he accused President Denis Sassou-Nguesso of corruption. Toungamani was not injured.

Both Ossébi and Toungamani were planning to become co-plaintiffs in an international legal complaint against Sassou-Nguesso and the Presidents of neighbouring Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. In December, transnational justice organisation Sherpa and anti-corruption group Transparency International called for a probe into how the leaders of the three oil-rich African nations had amassed private assets in France.

According to CPJ, at least two counter-complaints have been filed by the leaders. Gabonese authorities arrested a plaintiff in the case and two journalists last December after suspending a newspaper for republishing a report from French daily "Le Monde" on the Paris assets of Gabonese President Omar Bongo.

In an interview with CPJ, Communications Minister Alain Akouala, who visited Ossébi in the hospital, deplored his death and said an official investigation was underway. "It's sad because it was someone who took part in his own way to the debate of ideas," he said.

Read more from CPJ here: http://tinyurl.com/bf3qaj

(11 February 2009)

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