The bishops of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have condemned rebel violence in the east of the country, highlighting attempted Islamisation, the forced conversion of prisoners and the deaths of thousands – including children.
In a statement received by Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), members of the DRC’s National Episcopal Conference of the Congo (CENCO) decried the religious element to attacks by soldiers from the militant Allied Democratic Forces (ADF).
They said: “The assailants use the weak points of the regular armed forces to achieve their political or religious goals – occupation of land, illegal exploitation of natural resources, unjust enrichment, Islamisation of the region in defiance of religious freedom.”
They added that the fighters “see the Islamisation of the region as a sort of deeper strategy for a long-term negative influence on the general political situation of the country.”
The statement summarised the findings of a trip to North Kivu and Ituri by a joint delegation of CENCO and the Association of Ecclesiastical Conferences of Central Africa in January.
During the visit, prisoners who had escaped the Islamist militia ADF told bishops “that they had been compelled to ‘convert’ to Islam”.
The bishops added: “The victims number in the thousands – more than 6,000 dead in Beni since 2013 and more than 2,000 in Bunia in 2020 alone.
“There are also at least 3 million displaced people and around 7,500 people kidnapped.”
The bishops emphasised that the violence is particularly bad in the Beni-Butembo region.
They said: “The killings in the Beni-Butembo region date back to 2013. In recent days, especially from the last quarter of 2020, it is the Ruwenzori Sector that is most attacked.
“More than a hundred people have already been killed, including children.”
For decades, the region in the east of the DRC, rich in natural resources, has been plagued by violent ADF incursions.
Originally based in Uganda, since the 1990s the ADF has increasingly expanded operations into the DRC’s North Kivu Province.
In June 2019, ADF’s leader Musa Baluku formally pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, leading to divisions within the group.
Bishops reported that locals have accused the United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) of complicity, having failed to prevent massacres occurring a few metres from UN troop positions.
The bishops said: “The situation of insecurity in the East is a veritable crisis, which is affecting the whole country.
“We cannot hope for the development of this country as long as the East remains under the control of predators.”