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Democratic Republic of the Congo—Islamists are redrawing the East of the country

Aid to the Church in Need INTERVIEW

Bishop Paluku Sikuli Melchisédech of the diocese of Butembo-Beni, in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has denounced the failure of his government in the face of the challenges confronting it. Terrorists are expelling the indigenous populations from their homes, while criminals are trafficking in the exploitation of Congo’s mineral resources, completely undisturbed. (This interview was conducted in the last week of April 2021.)

2020: Priestly ordination by Bishop Melchizedek Paluku Sikuli, during COVID-19 pandemic.

ACN: Since the beginning of April a wave of demonstrations, some of them violent, have shaken your country, calling for an end to the insecurity. What is your position in regard to these demonstrations?

Bishop Paluku Sikuli Melchisédech: You cannot ask people who are being slaughtered like animals to simply shut up and do nothing. They have every right to demand security, every right to demand freedom. We simply urge that this should be done with respect for the law, peacefully and without violence.

What are they protesting about exactly?

On 24/03/2021 at 8.45 a.m., there was an attack by the alleged rebels ADF/NALU on the Beni-Kasindi road, almost 20 km from Beni. They set fire to 2 vehicles, a car which had on board 5 people and another which had on board 2 people and food. All the people are dead. Fire of two vehicles.

The completely ineffectual nature of the UN (MONUSCO) peacekeeping mission. But more broadly about the continuing ongoing conflicts, which have never been sorted out and which are continuing in the east of the country. When I became bishop, 20 years ago, people were already talking about the “Balkanization” of the region. I can only say that the expression still applies today! The national Congolese Bishops’ Conference calculates that there have been over 6,000 people killed in Beni since 2013 and over 2,000 in Bunia in the year 2020 alone. There are also an estimated, at least, 3 million internal refugees and around 7,500 people who have been kidnapped. There is a grand scheme to Islamize or expel the local populations.

The population is the victim of obscure and unknown issues about the mineral resources and their control. The Catholic Church helps the population and is the only organized opposition, and She is more and more persecuted for this reason.

Why do you speak of Islamization? The main organization involved, the so-called Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), does not claim to be an Islamist organization.

All those who have been kidnapped by these terrorist groups and who have escaped alive from them report the same thing. They were given the choice between death and conversion to Islam. They are given Muslim names to cement their identity. Besides, even those who live in the diocese and haven’t gone through this traumatic experience can tell you that mosques are springing up everywhere.

On 24/03/2021 at 8.45 a.m., there was an attack by the alleged rebels ADF/NALU on the Beni-Kasindi road, almost 20 km from Beni. They set fire to 2 vehicles, a car which had on board 5 people and another which had on board 2 people and food. All the people are dead. After the fire.

The national Congolese Bishops’ Conference calculates that there have been over 6,000 people killed in Beni since 2013 and over 2,000 in Bunia in the year 2020 alone. There are also an estimated, at least, 3 million internal refugees and around 7,500 people who have been kidnapped. There is a grand scheme to Islamize or expel the local populations.

Who is funding them?

In his time Mouammar Kadhafi gave very generously towards the building of these mosques. Now there are other sources of funding that are paying for the construction of these buildings.

As for the funding of the armed terrorist groups, they are engaged in some very lucrative activities. It is plain to see that Islamization is not their sole motivation! This region abounds with natural resources and they are being exploited completely illegally. How else can you explain those coltan refineries that are operating in Rwanda when the country has none of this resource? Instead this rare mineral is extracted here in our region and exported quite illegally across the other side of the frontier. And I see no sign of the Congolese government being concerned.

Are you denouncing a silent complicity on the part of your government?

Either it is weakness, or else it is complicity.

The displaced and refugees of East of Democratic Republic of Congo.
Massacres and displacements have been happening for almost 25 years now.

Are you not taking a risk in denouncing the government of Congo in this way?

The Congolese Catholic Church is not concerned in this respect. She has done so much for the construction of the country and she manages so many schools and hospitals! Congo would not be the Congo without the Church. So we are fortunate in being able to speak out quite freely.

Read more about the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in ACN’s Religious Freedom Report here.

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