Church official: In Congo, every day is 9/11

KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of the Congo (UMNS) — The United Methodist Church feels deep concern over violence that continues to plague the Democratic Republic of the Congo, particularly its most vulnerable citizens.

Officials from the United Methodist Board of Church and Society made that message clear during a recent visit to the African country.

“The church wants to pursue a sustainable peace that affirms human dignity, protection of natural resources and protection of human rights,” said the Rev. Neal Christie, Church and Society’s executive for education and leadership formation. “Every day in the DRC, there is a 9/11 taking place as long as the rape of women and plunder and forced dislocation are used as weapons of war in the eastern region of the Congo.”

Christie and the Rev. Clayton Childers, Church and Society’s director for annual conference relations and advocacy director for the Imagine No Malaria campaign, met July 22 with Bishop Ntambo Nkulu Ntanda of the denomination’s North Katanga Area, as well as with Lambert Mende Omalanga, minister of communications for the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“The Democratic Republic of the Congo has many natural resources,” Lambert Mende told the church officials. “What we need is a just peace to allow us to work toward the development (of the resources). The countries surrounding us will benefit from that, and they will also develop.”

President Obama has acknowledged that countries around Congo’s eastern region bear some blame for ongoing conflict within Congolese borders.

“The countries surrounding the Congo, they’ve got to make a commitment to stop funding armed groups that are encroaching on territorial integrity and sovereignty of Congo,” Obama said July 1 at a news conference in Tanzania, the last stop of his recent tour of Africa.

A United Nations-brokered peace agreement, signed by 11 countries, led to the deployment of a U.N. intervention force. Its goal is to neutralize armed groups. But reports continue of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) rebels in Congo fighting Rwanda, as well as M23 rebels fighting the established government in Congo.

The Reuters news agency reported that a U.N. analysis showed military officers from Rwanda and Congo were still fueling violence through their support of rival groups, despite the peace deal and intervention force.

The eastern region of Congo has been the scene of recurring violence since 1998, with more than 50 armed groups having operated in the area, leading to an estimated four million deaths.

“The public still remembers our complicity in allowing genocide in Rwanda to go on,” Christie said. “But when it comes to the millions who have been killed in the DRC, right next door to Rwanda … the public is far too silent. That is tragic.”

He added that the news media need to report on the role of the Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda governments in the violence in the eastern region of Congo, as well as on who profits from sustaining the conflict.

Ntambo thanked Christie and Childers, calling them “true friends” for helping him and a delegation meet in Washington last September with members of Congress, the State Department and the Obama administration.

The 30-member delegation of religious and civil society leaders brought a petition with more than one million signatures, calling for peace and dialog with Rwanda, but also accusing that country of war crimes and ongoing interference in Congo’s internal affairs.

“Rwanda is killing our people” Ntambo said in testifying Sept. 19 before a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee.

*Omadjela is director of communications and development for the United Methodist Central Congo Episcopal Area.

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