July 14, 2007 / 12:45 PM / 10 years ago

Congo moves pygmy musicians from zoo after outcry

BRAZZAVILLE, July 14 (Reuters) - A troupe of pygmy musicians made to live at the zoo while performing at a music festival in Congo Republic's capital Brazzaville have been provided with accommodation in a local school, authorities said on Saturday.

The plight of the 22 pygmies, whose tents became an attraction for curious zoo visitors, provoked outrage among civil rights groups in Congo. All the other musicians playing at the July 8-14 FESPAM festival were provided with hotel rooms.

The pygmies, from Congo's northeast Likouala forest region, had been gathering wood daily in the zoo to prepare fires to cook their food, often with tourists snapping photos of them.

Congolese Justice and Human Rights Minister Aime Emmanuel Yocka ordered the relocation of the pygmies late on Friday, a ministry official said.

Organisers of the music festival, which ends on Saturday, told Radio France International that as pygmies normally live in the forest, they had hoped to recreate their natural habitat by housing them in the zoo, which has wooded areas.

Pygmies frequently complain of being marginalised and treated with disrespect by governments in Central Africa, while their jungle habitat is degraded and destroyed.

The term pygmy, introduced by European explorers, refers to various ethnic groups of central Africa whose adults are shorter than 1.5 metres (five feet).

They use the term themselves, but many of them regard it as derogatory, and point out there is scant evidence of linguistic or ethnic ties between the different groups.

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