Catholic bishops in the Democratic Republic of Congo have expressed concern over the continued killings in the East of the country.
Members of the National Episcopal Conference of Congo (CENCO) said they were saddened by “the succession of sad and dramatic events which resulted in dozens of deaths and injuries in the space of a week in the territory of Djugu, in the province of Ituri.”
The clerics listed several attacks that triggered the deaths, including the January 31 attack by gunmen from the militia group- Cooperative for the Development of the Congo, CODECO, in the locality of Mambisa in Djugu, Ituri Province that left three people dead and three seriously wounded.
They also cited the February 1st attack by assailants from the same group on a camp for displaced people where they massacred 63 people, including 24 women and 17 children.
Two days after that massacre, on February 3rd, CODECO militiamen killed another person in Mulabo, still in Djugu territory. And on February 5, 2022, a boat fleeing an attack by the CODECO militia – which had decapitated nine people – capsized. 60 people lost their lives.
The clerics expressed what they called “compassion and our fraternal and spiritual closeness while assuring the people of our prayers in the face of this dramatic situation.”
Describing the situation as “unacceptable,” the bishops extended condolences to the bereaved families, noting that they were deeply saddened by the tragedies “which are causing the loss of many families and increasing the suffering of the population, already impoverished and traumatized by the precarious socio-economic and socio-security situation in these affected areas.”
“…we share the sufferings of all the populations in these seriously weakened areas, and firmly condemn these acts of barbarism which humiliate humanity and therefore the Congolese people,” they said in the statement.
They called on the CODECO militia “to stop killing our brothers, for he who hates his brother is in darkness.” They called on the population not to give in to manipulation and betrayal “in order not to be accomplices of the enemies of peace.”
The country’s Minister of Communication and Media in a tweet said the government “strongly condemns the deadly incursion into the site for displaced persons located in Savo (Djugu, Ituri) on the night of February 1st to 2nd by CODECO terrorists. The lives of about fifty of our compatriots were mowed down during this attack.”
Democratic Congo President, Félix-Antoine Tshisekedi has pledged to proffer solutions to the crisis.
“Solutions must be found gradually. But it will no longer be a question of tolerating laxity in the actions to be taken when it comes to the protection of our fellow citizens”, the President said at a Cabinet meeting, on February 4th.
Understanding the Conflict
What looks like ethnic conflicts in the Eastern Democratic Congo must be understood within the context of the larger geopolitical conflicts in the region.
Following the Rwanda genocide of 1994, Hutu rebel groups migrated across the Rwandan border into Eastern Democratic Congo (then called Zaire.) Rwandan troops then invaded Eastern Congo in an effort to contain Hutu factions implicated in the genocide.
In the process, Rwandan troops supported rebel leader, Laurent Kabila who went on to depose long-time dictator, Mobutu Sese Seku. By 1998 however, Kabila fell out with his Rwandan backers, and Rwandan troops along with Ugandan soldiers invaded the Democratic Congo in efforts to overthrow Kabila.
It is within these circumstances that the fight for control of resources erupted between the Hema pastoralists and Lendu farmers.
The fighting resulted in the deaths of one thousand people in June 1999 alone, with over 50,000 others displaced.
In November of the same year, a further 7,000 people were killed and over 100,000 forced to flee from their homes. The latest incidents there constitute the continuation of a long-standing dispute.
The bishops said the situation of insecurity in the region has “lasted for too long.”
“It is time for bloodshed to cease and for brotherhood between peoples and communities to be consolidated so that enemies can reach out to each other, and adversaries can agree to walk a part of the road together,” they said.
“CENCO takes this opportunity to invite the political, administrative and military authorities to do more to re-establish peace in this part of the national territory, to guarantee the security of the population in these areas which are prey to violence, and to prosecute the perpetrators of these horrible and unacceptable acts,” they said.
They then called on the affected population to commit their lives to God as the only sustainable source of lasting peace.
“Through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows, may the Risen Lord bind up the wounds of the wounded and restore courage and hope to all those who have lost their brothers and sisters. May he console the bereaved families and grant eternal rest to the victims,” the CENCO statement noted.