Reuters International

BRAZZAVILLE (Reuters) - The opposition coalition in Congo Republic said on Saturday it would boycott legislative elections in July if the government does not release detained opposition leaders and end a 'war' in the southeast of the country.

The decision reflects opposition frustration with President Denis Sassou Nguesso, who has ruled the oil-producing country for all but five years since 1979, and who was re-elected last year after a constitutional referendum.

The March 2016 election, which gave Sassou Nguesso a third term, was criticised by opposition parties and foreign powers for irregularities.

"The decision to hold legislative and local elections is perceived as an act that ruptures national solidarity," said Claudine Munari, president of the opposition federation.

"The illegal state of emergency in the Pool (region) aims to hide a humanitarian and health crisis which has caused thousands of deaths and thousands of displaced people," she said, calling for political dialogue under international supervision.

Authorities said in March security forces had killed around 15 rebel fighters in the Pool region in the latest police and army operation.

The area is a stronghold of Frederic Bintsamou, better known as Pastor Ntumi, who led a militia that fought Sassou Nguesso during and after a 1997 civil war. The government blames him for deadly raids in the capital Brazzaville last April.

The unrest in the Pool region has forced thousands to flee their homes and sparked allegations of abuse by government troops from human rights groups.

Opposition leader Pauline Makaya was sentenced to two years in jail last July on four counts including "incitement to disturb public order" during a demonstration in October 2015 to protest against a third term for the president.

At the same time, opposition leader Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko, who came third in the 2016 election, is also on trial for illegal possession of weapons.

(Reporting by Philon Bondenga; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Gareth Jones)

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