MBANDAKA, Democratic Republic of Congo It was peaceful for three years in this west Congo town, home of the headquarters of the Community of Disciples of Christ in Congo (CDCC).MBANDAKA, Democratic Republic of Congo
It was peaceful for three years in this west Congo town, home of the headquarters of the Community of Disciples of Christ in Congo (CDCC).
That is, until Sunday when hundreds of untrained soldiers at the Bokala camp south of Mbandaka began a violent rampage in the small village of Iyonda then moved north through Bolenge into Mbandaka.
Six people are reported dead in the area, according to a Reuters alert posted Monday. “Some are saying nine people have been killed, but I now know six people were shot dead by the soldiers,” Albert Donatien Bekalola, mayor of Mbandaka, told Reuters. Bekalola said that about 20 people had been injured on Sunday and he feared more would die from their wounds.
Two Mbandaka guest houses owned by the Disciples church were ransacked, stripped of everything including furnishings, kitchen ware, and supplies. The doors of the guest house that accommodates visiting missionaries were destroyed by gunfire, according to a report from Eliki Bonanga, the president of the CDCC.
In Bolenge, south of Mbandaka, conditions were worse. Though the main buildings of the Disciples’ church, hospital, and school were not damaged, all supplies were pillaged. Medicines, mattresses, equipment were stolen, including a new shipment of pharmaceutical supplies worth thousands of dollars. The medical administrator of the CDCC estimates the loss at the Bolenge hospital at about $85,000, reported Pat Sanborn of the Africa office of Global Ministries.
Systematic looting of private homes deprived many in Bolenge of already limited possessions. The homes of most CDCC leaders were ransacked. One church leader reported that the church had lost everything. American Disciples planted the church on Congo in the late 19th century and supplied hundreds of missionaries to the country until the 1960s when changing mission models in America and political instability in Congo led to the establishment of an independent Congolese Disciples church. Bolenge was the first mission station, founded in 1899.
The rampage continued through the day on Sunday. Gunfire began as early as 7:00 a.m., continuing to at least 3:00 p.m., said Boseale Eale, a church leader from Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
According to news reports from Reuters, the BBC, and the CDCC, the rampage was initiated by former members of the People’s Armed Forces of Congo (FAPC), one of many opposition parties in DRC. When a peace agreement was negotiated in 2002, officially ending a five year civil war in DRC, soldiers from warring parties were incorporated into the national army for training and discipline, as part of a power-sharing transitional government.
Former members of the FAPC were awaiting such training in the Bokala camp when they learned one of their colleagues had been killed and mutilated in Iyonda, a village 10 kilometers to the south. After discovering his body, his colleagues began a violent march to the north. National soldiers were sent in to stop the rampage by forcing the rogue soldiers back to their barracks in Bokala.
The area around Mbandaka has been relatively free of the fighting that has plagued the Eastern region of DRC since the peace agreement. Sporadic and violent conflict in the East continues to claim thousands of Congolese lives every year. It has required the presence of the largest UN peacekeeping force in the world - 16,000.
It is not clear whether the rampage in Mbandaka was linked to deadly protests in Kinshasa last week. At least 10 people died in clashes between police and protestors in the capital on June 30.
Eale and other CDCC leaders sent prayer requests around the world before June 30. Eale wrote, “On our way back, there was no car on the street but a lot of policemen and we were afraid. When we got home, we gathered our children together and started to pray for the day to come.”
The demonstrators were supporters of another opposition party, the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), which fought the 30-year dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko through mostly peaceful means. The UDPS, led by Etienne Tshisekedi, has not participated in the transitional government. They have, instead, demanded the resignation of President Joseph Kabila and other leaders, whom they say have failed because national presidential elections were delayed beyond a June 30 deadline.
Though voter registration began on June 20 and a new constitution was ratified on May 19, elections have been delayed until at least March, 2006. On Tuesday, Kabila accused the protest organizers of trying to destabilize the transitional government in order to make elections impossible. “Chaos would serve some politicians well,” Kabila told Reuters, adding that investments will only reach DRC if it is secure and politically stable. Already, the DRC has been left out of the G-8 proposal for debt relief for African nations because of the instability.
The day after the protests in Kinshasa, Eale sent his thanks via email. “We did not feel lonely and we really appreciate you carrying our burdens from the bottom of your hearts.”
William Chris Hobgood, general minister and president of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), who led a delegation of Disciples from the North American church to DRC in March, said earlier today, “I hope we will respond like the good partners that we are. In 1993 when we were hit with floods, the CDCC responded with generosity and prayer. I hope we’ll do the same. This crisis calls for our generosity and compassion. I have confidence that we will be able to respond with gifts and prayers so that the people of CDCC continue to know that we care.”
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