Congo orders arrest of key candidate in presidential race

Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko, 71, a former chief of staff of the Republic of Congo's army, denies the accusations of "undermining internal state security" after a 2016 presidential poll in which he placed third (AFP Photo/ISSOUF SANOGO)

Brazzaville (AFP) - Congolese authorities on Friday said they had ordered the arrest of a former army chief who is challenging President Denis Sassou Nguesso, in power for more than 30 years, in elections next month.

Speaking on state television, public prosecutor Andre Oko Ngakala said he had given instructions for the "immediate arrest... and questioning" of Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko.

The instructions were given on the basis of an inquiry "into information about statements made by Mr. Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko that have been widely disseminated on the street and social networks," he said, without giving immediate details.

An AFP journalist reported that all the roads leading to Mokoko's residence had been closed off by police.

Congo's military chief from 1987 to 1993, Mokoko is currently special representative of the African Union Commission in the neighbouring Central African Republic.

Mokoko is a longtime ally of Sassou Nguesso, but on February 3 he announced his resignation as the president's advisor on peace and security, a post he had held since 2005.

On February 8 he announced plans to run in the March 20 election and challenge his former boss.

Since February 13, when Mokoko held his first campaign rally, a video has been circulating on the Internet that appears to implicate him in an attempted coup d'etat.

The video, which dates to the start of the last decade, has been denounced as a fraud by Mokoko's campaign.