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Catholic Bishops in DR Congo Warn of Threat of Islamism Targeting Victims of Violence

A burning car in the ongoing violence in DRC's Catholic Diocese of Butembo-Beni. Credit: Aid to the Church in Need

Victims of rebel militias in the Eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are being forced to convert to Islam, Catholic Bishops in the country have said, warning of a threat of Islamism in the Central African nation.

In a report to the Catholic Pontifical Organization Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) International, the Bishops make an appeal to the Félix Tshisekedi-led government to stop the militias who they describe as religious “predators.”

The report, which ACN leadership shared with ACI Africa, includes the summary of a fact-finding trip by a joint delegation of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of DRC (CENCO) and the Association of Ecclesiastical Conferences of Central Africa (ACEAC) that visited the Provinces of North Kivu and Ituri in January.

From their trip, representatives of the national and regional conferences of Bishops conclude that there is “the Islamization of the region as a sort of deeper strategy for a long-term negative influence on the general political situation of the country.”

The Bishops informed ACN that prisoners who escaped the Islamist militia Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) confirmed “that they had been compelled to convert to Islam.”

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“We cannot hope for the development of this country as long as the East remains under the control of predators,” said the Bishops in their report that ACN leadership shared with ACI Africa on Wednesday, April 14.

In the report, officials of the Pontifical charity organization note that for decades, in the Beni-Butembo region (North Kivu province) in the East of DRC, which is rich in natural resources, has been plagued by the violent incursions of the rebel militias belonging to the ADF, which originally invaded the Central African country from Uganda.

According to the report by CENCO members, the number of victims of the violence runs into thousands.

“For example, in Beni-Butembo, there have been more than 6,000 fatalities since 2013, and in Bunia more than 2,000 people were killed in 2020 alone. In addition, at least 3 million people have been forced to flee and some 7,500 people have been abducted,” the Bishops detail in their report to the Pontifical aid organization.

“In fact, there are numerous other active militias,” ACN leadership reports, and adds, “All this time, the Congolese Armed Forces and MONUSCO have been unable to bring peace to the region.”

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Catholic Bishops in the Beni-Butembo region have stressed the religious dimension of the conflict, drawing attention to the various goals of the aggressors.

The Catholic leaders report that the aggressors are exploiting “the weaknesses of the regular armed forces in order to achieve their political and religious goals.”

According to the Bishops, the aggressors’ goals are occupation of land, illegal exploitation of natural resources, gratuitous self-enrichment and the Islamization of the region without regard for religious freedom.

The Bishops call upon DRC’s political leaders to adopt an entirely new direction in their political, military, and humanitarian strategy to effectively address the situation. They express their concern that authorities are not doing enough to help.

“The people feel abandoned. The promises by the central government to rapidly restore peace are plentiful, but in many cases, they have remained without any effects,” the Catholic Bishops in DRC say.

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