John Paul II Calls for an End to Conflicts in Uganda and Liberia

1 Million People in Each Country Have Been Affected

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VATICAN CITY, JULY 2, 2003 ( John Paul II appealed for peace in the African countries of Liberia and Uganda, and spoke of his closeness to the beleaguered local Churches.

“With profound sadness I follow the tragic events in Liberia and in northern Uganda,” the Pope said at the end of today’s general audience. “I appeal for everyone’s commitment, so that these beloved African populations will find peace and security again, and that they will not be denied the future to which they have a right.”

“I express, moreover, my closeness to the local Churches, severely stricken in their persons and works, while I encourage the pastors and faithful to be strong and firm in hope,” the Holy Father said. “May our insistent prayer obtain this from the Divine Mercy!”

Two rebel assaults in Monrovia, the Liberian capital, last month left an estimated 700 people dead, prompting U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to ask that a multinational force be sent to the country.

For his part, U.S. President George W. Bush has called upon Liberian President Charles Taylor to step down, in a move to end the conflict in the west African state, which was founded 150 years ago by freed North American slaves.

The rebel Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy have spent three years trying to seize the capital and to oust Taylor, in a war that has displaced more than 1 million people.

The rebels want Taylor, accused of war crimes in neighboring Sierra Leone, to resign from office. Taylor has said he will leave at the end of his term in January.

The Liberian president, who studied in the United States, emerged as the dominant leader in a war that caused 200,000 deaths in the 1990s. In 1997 he won the elections.

In Uganda, the rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) are terrorizing the Teso and Kuman peoples in the north with killings and kidnappings. In recent weeks, they have attacked Catholic schools and missions.

LRA leader Joseph Kony is trying to bring down the government of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

“The Pope’s words are not just words of consolation, rather, they infuse strength and courage in us to face the present adversities,” said Archbishop John Baptist Odama of Gulu, in northern Uganda, when he received the news of the papal appeal.

“It is the most beautiful news I have received since I became bishop,” he told the Misna agency. “I turn to the international community, and, first, to all the Ugandan nation so that they will become aware of this forgotten war,” which affects 1 million people.

“Our people cannot endure any more and are desperate. I am convinced that the president of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, has done what he could in these years to guarantee the safety of the civilian population,” the archbishop said. “But when your cabin is set on fire and you cannot put the fire out, you have to ask your neighbors for help. The whole village is on fire here!”

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