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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Congo Sorry Pygmies Were Placed in Zoo

BRAZZAVILLE, Republic of Congo -- The Republic of Congo formally apologized Sunday for housing a group of visiting Pygmy musicians at a zoo while fellow festival performers were housed in schools and hotels.

Authorities had said they were trying to provide familiar surroundings to the musicians, who are used to living in thick, remote forests. But local newspapers and a human rights group denounced the zoo arrangement as discriminatory -- saying tourists were gathering around the pygmies' tents on the zoo grounds to stare and take pictures.

The uproar led the government to move the pygmies late Friday to a high school dormitory where other musicians from elsewhere in the Central African country were staying. Foreign artists performing at the Festival of Pan-African Music were lodged in hotels.

"Article 8 of the Congolese Constitution stipulates that all Congolese are equal. I want to take this opportunity to express my regret in the name of the government," government spokesman Alain Akouala said.

Pygmies, not all of whom are below average height, are believed to be the earliest inhabitants of Central Africa. More than 250,000 live in the Republic of Congo, and they are also found in its larger neighbor, the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as Central African Republic, Cameroon and Burundi.

Officials said previously that they offered the accommodation on the forested zoo grounds so the musicians would feel more at home, saying they had never seen a city.