Catholic bishops in DR Congo worried by killings, forced conversions in east

Children displaced by the conflict in D R Congo Credit Stuart Boulton Shutterstock CNA Stuart Boulton/Shutterstock.

Renewed violence in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo that has resulted in the killing of civilians is a cause of concern, Catholic bishops in the central African nation said Thursday, appealing for an end to the bloodshed.

In an April 8 statement, members of the Standing Committee of the National Episcopal Conference of Congo said, “War is the mother of all miseries, it affects all spheres of society and compromises the future of our children.”

“To those who have taken up arms we say: ‘Stop killing your brothers,’” the bishops said.

They invited those who are caught up in divisions to “know that it is through love and unity that evil can be overcome and the spectre of violence broken.”

Citizens of DR Congo have experience protracted conflicts over the years.

Dozens of armed groups are believed to operate in the eastern region of DR Congo despite the presence of more than 16,000 UN peacekeepers.

In their statement, the Catholic bishops in DR Congo noted that “for more than two decades, the Eastern part of our country has been particularly affected by armed conflicts and recurrent insecurity, causing death, desolation and displacement of the population.”

“In order to show our affective and effective closeness to our brothers and sisters who are victims of this tragedy, a delegation of Bishops from the Association of Episcopal Conferences of Central Africa (ACEAC) and the National Episcopal Conference of Congo (CENCO) carried out a pastoral mission in the east of the country, particularly in the dioceses of Goma, Butembo-Beni and Bunia, from 14 to 26 January 2021, to listen to and comfort them,” the bishops said.

They added, “The assailants use the weak points of the regular armed forces to achieve their political or religious goals: occupation of land, illegal exploitation of natural resources, unjust enrichment, Islamization of the region in defiance of religious freedom.”

The bishops said that people who escaped from kidnapping by the Allied Democratic Forces, an Islamist rebel group, said they had been “forced to convert to Islam”.

“This whole situation has caused the loss of family life, massive displacement of people and significant loss of property, and has dealt a severe blow to the economy of a region that rightly serves as the country's breadbasket,” the bishops noted.

They said that the perpetrators of such acts “are often armed groups and militiamen, some of whom have an ideology close to 'Satanism.'”

The bishops stated that “the killings in the Beni-Butembo region date back to 2013. In recent days, especially from the last quarter of 2020, it is the Ruwenzori Sector that is most attacked.”

“More than a hundred people have already been killed, including children,” they said, adding that the situation in Bunia and the rest of Ituri Province “is much more complex, marked by recurrent and multifaceted crises of which the population is the main victim.”

“The public authorities are overwhelmed by events. Among the political leaders, some tend to cover up for the troublemakers out of choice or because of pressure from a community leadership,” the bishops said.

They continued, “The population has the feeling of being abandoned. The central government's promises to restore peace quickly are numerous, but many have often remained unfulfilled.”

The bishops expressed regret that “all our appeals through our various socio-political messages have not yet found a consistent response from the people concerned.”

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They recommended “a rethinking of the vision, approaches and structures at various levels: political, military, police, intelligence services, humanitarian, and Congo's partners.”

“It is urgent and necessary to move all military officers who have been involved in the various rebellions or armed groups in the East of the country, and to remove from the chain of command and logistics those who are considered to be relay agents for foreign armies,” the bishop added.

They also called “for the reinforcement of the strength of the regiments”, urging that they be provided “with adequate logistical means, including reconnaissance and attack drones, in order to reduce the loss of human life and material.”

The bishops advocated for “the establishment of a permanent framework for consultation for cohesion and peace in the East, led by a multidisciplinary scientific observatory, and the involvement of local leaders in raising awareness for peaceful cohabitation for the consolidation of intra and inter-community dialogue.”

“We recommend that international partners and countries that are friends of the DRC communicate more about their vision of peace in the country, and that they become involved in strengthening the certification mechanisms for agricultural and mining products that circulate in the region,” they added.

“CENCO remains committed to accompanying the process of building peace and social cohesion,” the bishops indicated, expressing their commitment to working to consolidate fraternity between peoples and communities, so that enemies may reach out to one another and adversaries may agree to walk part of the way together.

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