Congo's religious leaders seek inter-faith intervention to stop conflict
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa/GENEVA, 27 April 2005 (LWI) - Religious leaders have warned of imminent escalation of conflict in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). They are appealing for immediate intervention by an Inter-Faith Action for Peace in Africa (IFAPA) mission and representatives of international peace agencies.
Rev. Gilbert Boissa, leader of the DRC delegation to the Second IFAPA Summit near Johannesburg, April 21-25, urged religious leaders to appeal to political leadership in the DRC, Uganda and Rwanda to urgently address the issue of security especially in Eastern DRC.
He noted that arms' smuggling was on the rise as poverty levels increased in a region where HIV/AIDS prevalence had risen among the youth since the current fighting between militia groups and government forces broke out in 1998. Some 3.3 million people, mostly women, children and the elderly, are estimated to have died mostly from disease and starvation, and over two million people have been displaced. Only concerted efforts by the top leadership of the three Great Lakes Region countries, Boissa said, could stop the conflict over the control of resources and struggle for political power.
There was calm following the IFAPA peace mission in October 2004 but the security situation had deteriorated in recent months, Boissa noted.
Indeed the "Kopanong Manifesto" adopted by religious leaders attending the Second IFAPA Summit, underlined the need to continue with such solidarity visits, saying they had given encouragement and inspiration both to those who participated in them and their hosts. Immediate intervention was also called for in view of the conflict in northern Uganda, Togo and Burundi.
However, further follow-up on such visits is needed in order to build on the existing opportunities and fulfill the expectations created. Delegates attending the second summit expressed appreciation for the IFAPA delegation visit to Southern Sudan last March, and also called for a similar visit to Northern Sudan. They noted that while the 2005 peace agreement signed between the Sudan People's Liberation Army/Movement and the Khartoum Government was a significant step, sustaining peace remained a major concern. (See http://www.lutheranworld.org/News/LWI/EN/1633.EN.html
Religious representatives from Uganda urged immediate intervention in the northern part of the country, where nearly two decades of rebel insurgency between the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) and government forces has displaced 90 percent of the population. Not only are 1.5 million internally displaced persons forced to live in overcrowded camps under inhumane conditions, but security continues to be a major concern. Children are abducted and brutalized into fighters, with the girls also being turned into sex slaves. The people are subjected to further ambushes, massacres and torching of huts, they said.
Rev. Macleord Baker Ochola II, representing the Acholi Religious Leaders' Peace Initiative at the IFAPA summit, expressed hope that peace in Southern Sudan would positively impact on similar initiatives in northern Uganda. The LRA operates from bases in Southern Sudan, remarked Ocholla II, who led the inter-faith delegation visit to Sudan.