Page 4, 4th August 2000

4th August 2000
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Page 4, 4th August 2000 — Church fury over genocide `silence' in heart of Africa
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Church fury over genocide `silence' in heart of Africa

Bishops condemn 1.7 million Congo killings

By Antoine Lokongo

CONGO'S CATHOLIC bishops have severely criticised the international community for standing silent while foreign troops massacred civilians in their country.

A statement issued to the media in Europe, Africa and America, accused the global community of "complicity" with armies from Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi — which the bishops blamed for killing, raping, looting and spreading of HIV/AIDS among the Congolese population in a war that has cost 1.7 million lives.

They said the armies were "responsible for enormous loss of life and propagation of diseases in the Democratic Republic of Congo".

The statement, signed by 39 bishops from all over the country, came at the end of a five-day Plenary Assembly of the Episcopal Conference of the Democratic Republic of Congo, held in the capital Kinshasa, last month and presided over by Cardinal Frederick Etsou, Archbishop of Kinshasa.

The bishops said they were very surprised by the "overwhelming silence" of the international community when armies were "shamelessly looting" Congo's resources, including gold and diamonds; destroying the country's fauna and flora and its largely Church-based social-economic infrastructure, such as schools, parishes and hospitals.

Rwanda and Uganda back different rebel movements against the government of President Laurent Desire Kabila whom they helped to overthrow Congo's long-time dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.

They now occupy chunks of territories in the east and north of the Democratic Republic of Congo, under the pretext of securing their own borders from their own rebels'incursions from the Congolese territory into Rwanda and Uganda.

"In the occupied territories, the armies of aggression and occupation from Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi rule with impunity, making the Democratic Republic of Congo look like an estate without an owner," said the bishops.

"What a humiliation to watch powerlessly such a macabre spectacle of death and destruction among the population; a spectacle orchestrated by two foreign armies with the backing of some superpowers, who have come to wreak havoc more than 1,000 kilometres away from their borders with the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"We say NO to the Balkanisation of our country and NO to all forms of colonisation of our people. The Congolese are tired of living in their own country as if they are in a conquered territory. We call upon the international community to force the aggressors out of our country without any further delay."

The Democratic Republic of Congo is one of Africa's largest and potentially richest country. It has been the target of foreign interests since King Leopold II of Belgium acquired it as a personal property in 1885 and later handed it over to the Belgian government as a colony. Its independence, since 1960, has been marred by civil wars, corruption and mismanagement up to this day; so that today many Congolese people, though living in a naturally wealthy country, like many Africans, number among the most destitute people in the world.

The prelates, who represent Congo's 40 million Catholics (from a population of 60 million) warned that both foreign and inter nal forces were taking advantage of the chaos reigning in the country to loot it of its resources. The bishops urged all parties to cease hostilities and end the two-year war of aggression and occupation.

They accused the Congolese government's army of indiscipline in the territories under their control and urged the Congolese rebel forces not to "cynically" sell their country by serving egoistic interests of foreigners, The bishops asked: "What kind of partnership can you [rebels] have with the aggressors when they even do not have any respect for you, for your country, and for your people?"

Recent fighting between Ugandan and Rwandan troops killed more than 760 Congolese in Kisangani. Archbishop Emmanuel Kataliko of Bukavu, still confined to Butembo, north Kivu, by Congolese rebels, was unable to participate in the Bishops' Plenary Assembly. Archbishop Laurent Mosengwo of Kisangani did not attend the meeting either. No reason was given.

The Red Cross estimates that 1.7 million Congolese have been murdered by a Ugandan-Rwandan-Burundian coalition which invaded the Congo in August 1998.




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