05 December 2008

Crisis in Central Africa

This elderly woman has fled the fighting in Masisi, eastern Congo. She found a refuge at her daughter’s home, who also accommodated a group of other displaced people from the same village. (Photo: Anna Muinonen/FCA-ACT International)

The Church of Ireland Gazette carries the following editorial comment in this week’s edition (5 December 2008):

Crisis in Central Africa

This week, we publish a report from Goma by Anna Muinonen, who is working in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as a programme co-ordinator with FinnChurchAid (see page 9). Readers will find her report both distressing and hopeful.

In recent weeks, a quarter of a million people have been forced from their homes in the eastern parts of the DRC, fleeing the continuing violence between the army and rebel forces. They are joining a million people already displaced in that part of the vast central African nation, and Churches and agencies now say a humanitarian disaster is looming.

The United Nations (UN) has reported that the rebels in eastern DRC are violating a ceasefire and seizing more territory. At the same time, the government in Kinshasa has rejected an offer of more peacekeeping troops. Without a commitment from both sides to resolving this conflict, the plight of these millions of people can only rapidly deteriorate.

The fighting between the rebel forces led by General Laurent Nkunda and the pro-government Mai Mai militia, in an area 50-60 miles north of Goma, is aggravating the humanitarian and security crisis in Nord-Kivu province, according to the UN. The roots of the conflict stem from the 1998-2003 civil war, which elections two years failed to resolve. And yet, the international campaign, Human Rights Watch (HRW), says the conflict may be detracting from repression and abuses in other parts of the DRC.

President Joseph Kabila’s DRC government has killed “at least 500” suspected political opponents in the past two years, according to HRW, which accuses President Kabila’s government of “brutal repression.” Last month’s report says about 1,000 people have been detained since the 2006 elections, with many of them being tortured, while government forces have deliberately killed or summarily executed hundreds of opponents, mainly in north-west and southern DRC, away from the current conflict zone.HRW is critical of foreign governments that are trying to win favour with the Kabila government and so keep silent about this increasingly repressive regime. How long can the developed world remain silent about this regime and this conflict? As our report this week reminds us: “It is impossible to preach God’s love in Jesus Christ while being silent about the effects of such a grave humanitarian catastrophe.”

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