Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 30, 2002
Bishops call for peace in Congo
Vicious civil war cloaks stark human tragedt
By ART BABYCH
Canadian Catholic News
The Catholic bishops of Canada want the federal government to help bring an end to the war in Congo and the African Great Lakes region and forge ahead in the spirit of the Africa Action Plan endorsed by the G-8 countries at the Kananaskis Summit in June.
Bishop Jacques Berthelet, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the war in the region is responsible for about 2.5 million people suffering from severe shortages in basic necessities as well as from famine. "Despite its positive role, the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) finds itself helpless in this situation, as much from a limited mandate as from the limited means at its disposal," Berthelet said in a letter to Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham, released Sept. 20.
"Possible areas of action for Canada include the reinforcement of the role of MONUC, the effective participation of Canadian military in this UN mission, the organization of a regional conference for peace and development in the African Great Lakes region, and assistance in the reintegration of Rwandan military in their country," he said.
The CCCB president asked that Canada continue and even intensify its efforts to bring peace to the Congo and the surrounding countries. He also requested that the government " immediately provide through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) the funding necessary for the major efforts that are needed in reconstruction and rehabilitation."
Canadian Catholics are pleased that Canada is playing a "constructive role" in bringing peace to the Congo and Central Africa, especially by helping to finance the Inter-Congolese Dialogue and also through the work of Canada's special envoy to the Democratic Republic of Congo/Great Lakes, Marc-André Brault, added Berthelet.
"We are also happy with the important place given to this question in the Africa Action Plan that was approved by the G-8 countries at their meeting this past June in Kananaskis." The letter also asked for the creation of a reconstruction fund for the Democratic Republic of the Congo. "Thirty years of dictatorship and six years of war have left the Congo in a terrible state of political, economic and social disarray," it said. "Canada must act, out of a sense of respect for human dignity, and also because it recognizes that the Congo has immense natural riches capable of assuring its people of a decent life over the long term."
Berthelet said what is needed now are the means for the people of the Congo to survive, "and over time active Canadian involvement in rebuilding the country's social fabric, economic infrastructures and political institutions."
Last January, Bishop-Emeritus Jean-Guy Hamelin of the Diocese of Rouyn-Noranda, led a four-member delegation to Congo and told CCN later that Congo's "forgotten war" has claimed between two and three million lives since 1998. More than 2 million people are homeless, 16 million people are desperately in need of food, and health and education services, as well as infrastructures, are destroyed or are in a pitiful state, he said.
"Infant mortality rates have risen to the levels they were at 50 years ago," Hamelin added. "Yet no one in the media is talking about the situation, and the international community has been reticent to take a stand to end the misery."