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Renewed Violence, Killings in Eastern DR Congo Cause for Concern: Catholic Bishops

Members of the National Episcopal Conference of Congo (CENCO)

Renewed violence in the Eastern parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) that have resulted in the killing of civilians is a cause of concern, Catholic Bishops in the Central African nation have said and appealed for an end to the bloodshed.

In a collective statement issued Thursday, April 8, members of the Standing Committee of the National Episcopal Conference of Congo (CENCO) say, “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 appeal in their message that cites the book of Genesis, and add, making reference to the Gospel according to John, “He who hates his brother is in darkness.”

They invite 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 DRC have experience protracted conflicts over the years, the most affected regions being Ituri, Kasai, and Kivu, according to Global Conflict Tracker.

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

In their April 8 collective statement, Catholic Bishops in DRC note 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 Catholic Church leaders say.

They add, “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.”

“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 members of CENCO Bishops bemoan in their statement titled “The blood of your brother cries out to me from the ground.”

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

The members of CENCO’s Standing Committee give an account of the situation of insecurity in some part of the Central African nation saying, “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 say, 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 Catholic Bishops say.  

They continue, “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.”

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Unfortunately, the Bishops regret, “all our appeals through our various socio-political messages have not yet found a consistent response from the people concerned.”

Against this backdrop, the Catholic Church Leaders recommend “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 members of CENCO’s Standing Committee recommend.

They also “call for the reinforcement of the strength of the regiments” and want them provided “with adequate logistical means, including reconnaissance and attack drones, in order to reduce the loss of human life and material.”

The Bishops further advocate 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 add.

The Bishops also recommend that during this Easter season, the people of God in DRC show “spiritual closeness for the entire community of our brothers and sisters in the East by setting aside a time of prayer for peace in the East of the country.”

“We are all invited to assume our responsibilities and to strengthen our bonds of solidarity and brotherhood,” they reiterate. 

“CENCO remains committed to accompanying the process of building peace and social cohesion,” the Bishops indicate in their message and express their commitment to working both internally and externally, 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.

The Bishops implore, “May the Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Peace, obtain for us the grace of a lasting peace in DR Congo and in the Great Lakes sub-region.”