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Africa 2006,

Some 600 years ago when the Bantu speaking people moved into the region it was inhabited by Pygmies. Towards the end of the 15th Century Portuguese merchant mariners established relations with the Kongo kingdom at the mouth of the Congo river and conducted slave trade until it was abolished in the 19th Century. French colonization began in the late 19th Century when Count Savorgnan de Brazza signed a treaty with the chief of the Batekes, Makoko. In 1910 Congo became part of French Equatorial Africa and in 1960 gained its independence under Pres. Fulbert Youlou. After several coups Col. Denis Sassou-Nguesso took control in 1979 and established stability with a one-party regime. In free elections held in 1993, Pascal Lissouba won the presidency but his party failed to obtain an absolute majority and a four month civil war erupted which led to the large-scale destruction of Brazzaville. In 1997 Lissouba's fragile coalition government came to an end when Sassou-Nguesso, with the help of Angolan forces, took over as president. At the end of 1999 a peace agreement was signed between Sassou-Nguesso, from the north, and the rebels representing the populous south. The truce seems to be holding. Nguesso, backed by the Forces Démocratique Unies (FDU) was reelected as president by overwhelming majority in March 2002 over six other contenders.