Bishops of Congo Decry the "First African World War"

Ask for U.N. Conference on Great Lakes Region

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KINSHASA, Congo, FEB. 26, 2004 ( The bishops of Congo called on the United Nations to make a greater effort to help the country stop the civil war that erupted in 1998.

This war «is the bloodiest the African continent has ever known,» with 3 million dead and 1.5 million refugees, the bishops wrote in a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

«Some refer to it, and rightly so, as the first African world war because it involves not only nine different African countries and their Western supporters, but because the war affects the vital interests of the entire continent,» said the letter, dated Feb. 14 and reported by the Vatican agency Fides.

«In fact, the riches over which men are fighting in Congo, are part of the patrimony of all Africa. Rational exploitation of these riches would help without a doubt to solve many of the continent’s problems,» they noted.

In their letter, the bishops denounced «the horrifying amount of arms which feed conflicts in the Great Lakes region,» arms trafficking connected with «fraudulent exploitation» of timber, coffee, diamonds, gold and other resources.

They also noted the persistence of fighting in eastern Congo, despite the agreements between governments and belligerents.

Hence, the bishops said that it is «indispensable for all parties to sign an official declaration stopping all hostilities.» Moreover, the «declaration must foresee sanctions for anyone who resumes fighting. Apart from the regular army, no other armed groups must be granted legitimacy.»

«The bishops’ conference is of the opinion that the time has come to hold an international conference on the Great Lakes region under the aegis of the United Nations,» they wrote.

The bishops also proposed a «conference to stop criminalization of Congo’s economy,» and insisted «on the need to protect the Congo’s fauna and flora and to save financial resources, produced by exploiting minerals, for future generations.»

The bishops’ conference called for the constitution of an International Solidarity Fund for Democratic Congo to «compensate for damages suffered since 1994. The fund would not eliminate obligations of justice and reparation, which must be imposed on aggressor countries for damages inflicted on the people of Congo.»

The bishops also asked that the United Nations establish a permanent table of reconciliation between the heads of state of Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and Congo.

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