KINSHASA, June 1 (Reuters) - War could break out again in the eastern provinces of Democratic Republic of Congo unless the Congolese army and United Nations peacekeepers intervene to prevent it, according to a senior Catholic Church official.
Monsignor Francois-Xavier Maroy, Archbishop of Bukavu, the capital of South Kivu province, made the warning in a letter this week to France's ambassador to Congo. Rebels massacred 18 villagers in his province last weekend.
Despite an election last year which crowned a peace process ending Congo's 1998-2003 war, violence has been on the rise again in the vast central African country's eastern Kivu provinces, long a flashpoint for regional instability.
"Today, our villages and cities are dominated by the psychosis of war," Bukavu's archbishop wrote in the letter to ambassador Bernand Prevost dated May 28, a copy of which was seen by Reuters on Friday.
Around 113,000 people have fled fighting between government forces, Rwandan rebels and local militias in North Kivu since February.
Suspected Rwandan fighters, remnants of Hutu militias responsible for Rwanda's 1994 genocide, slaughtered 18 sleeping villagers in South Kivu last weekend, wounded another 22 and kidnapped a dozen more.
Maroy condemned what he regarded as a lack of action on the part of Congolese authorities to deal with the violence.
He called on President Joseph Kabila, sworn in last year as Congo's first democratically elected leader in more than 40 years, to "live up to his responsibilities and send in elite troops, who must counter the imminent war in North and South Kivu before it is too late".
The archbishop also urged the 17,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force in Congo -- the largest mission of its kind in the world -- to do more to protect civilians.
Maroy wrote the latest killings bore worrying similarities to the violent incidents that preceded two Rwandan-backed rebel uprisings in the 1990s.
The first, in 1996, toppled long-time dictator Mobutu Sese Seko and resulted in the slaughter of thousands of fleeing Hutu refugees.
A second, two years later, plunged Congo into a six-year conflict and a related humanitarian crisis that killed an estimated 4 million people, mainly through hunger and disease, leaving the country's infrastructure and economy in ruins.
The U.N. Security Council voted last month to keep the U.N. peacekeeping force in Congo at least until the end of the year.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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