United Methodist leaders in the Democratic Republic of Congo are reacting to a deadly attack there that led to the deaths of 15 United Nations peacekeepers.
On the night of Dec. 7, in Semuliki in the eastern Congo territory of Beni, militant rebels attacked a base of the peacekeepers, who were mandated to maintain the peace in this part of the country. Fifteen peacekeepers, all from Tanzania, died in the attack. Five Congolese soldiers allied with the U.N. also died and another 40 peacekeepers were injured. The attackers are suspected to belong to the Allied Democratic Forces.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said it was the worst attack on U.N. peacekeepers in recent memory.
“These deliberate attacks against U.N. peacekeepers are unacceptable and constitute a war crime,” Guterres said in a statement. “These brave women and men are putting their lives on the line every day across the world to serve peace and to protect civilians.”
East Congo Area Bishop Gabriel Yemba Unda said he is troubled by this attack. He asked the authorities of the country “to do everything to bring peace in this region,” and to all Christians to “pray for the faithful of the East of the Democratic Republic of Congo — more precisely those of Beni, who continue to suffer with these attacks in repetition.”
The bishop offered his condolences to the victims of the attack, the government and the United Nations.
This region, which borders Uganda and Rwanda, has been plagued by years of instability, with rival groups fighting for control of the mineral-rich territory. Attacks often target the civilian and religious populations.
Emile Ulangi, a United Methodist lay leader in Beni, reported that on Dec. 9 in Beni City there were six people killed in their homes in other violence.
“It has led to a paralysis of activities in the city and demands that a lasting peace be established in this part so that there is development,” Ulangi said.
For the Rev. Ezechiel Mathe, superintendent of the Beni District, this attack once again affects his community because all the roads for agricultural services are blocked and “the population is afraid to go even to the field, as is the case of our local Church of Nobili — located 17 km (10 miles) from Semuliki, the place of the attack.”
Pastor Maurice Kavota worries about long-term suffering because people continue to stay in their homes out of fear.
“The road that leads to Irengeti is the food supply route for the population of Beni,” Kavota said. “It is necessary that the authorities find a solution as soon as possible.”
Kituka Lolonga is communicator for the Kivu Annual Conference.