European Catholics to Join in Peace Bid in Congo

BOLOGNA, Italy, FEB. 15, 2001 ( European Catholics are preparing to travel to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to support the local Church´s campaign to re-establish peace in the war-torn country.

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Bishop Melchisedec Sikuli of Butembo, North Kivu, the Congolese region where the conflict is at its worst, is traveling through Europe looking for Catholic support for the peace effort.

About 330 Italian volunteers, as well as Germans, Spaniards and Belgians, are due to go to Butembo, where a symposium on human rights will be held from Feb. 27 to March 1. Europeans and residents will also join in a peace march in the city.

«Your presence will be more meaningful for us than many speeches at the United Nations,» Bishop Sikuli told the volunteers here. «This will be the first time so many white people are seen together in that area. It will be something very special, a historic moment because the reason is most important: peace and solidarity.»

He added: «The people have not wanted what is happening; this is an imported war. There are no military factories in the countries involved. Behind the armies of Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi, are other much stronger states.»

For two years, the area around Butembo has been controlled by leaders of the Rassemblement Congolaise pour la Democratie (RCD-Goma), with Rwanda´s support, in defiance of the local sovereignty of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Hopes for implementing the Lusaka peace agreements in the Great Lakes region have faded under strongman Joseph Kabila, son of the late president, Laurent Kabila. Rwanda has given signs that it is opposed to dialogue.

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