Christians in the central African nation of Congo are becoming the targets of the M23 guerrilla group, the revolutionary band trying to overthrow Congolese leader Joseph Kabila, according to a report from Britain-based Christian group Barnabas Aid.
“Villages plundered, boys forcibly recruited, women raped; their villages too unsafe for them to stay. Thousands of Christians in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo are in urgent need of food and shelter after escaping the violence of a new rebel group, called M23,” the Barnabas Aid report said.
The Joshua Project reports that over 90 percent of the People’s Democratic Republic of the Congo is Christian. WND reported in January that based on a Pew Research Center study, the Congo is in the world’s top 10 nations in the number of Christians. Almost half (48 percent) of all Christians live in the 10 countries with the largest number of Christians. Three are in sub-Saharan Africa (Nigeria, Congo and Ethiopia), reflecting Christianity’s global reach.
Heritage Foundation Africa analyst Morgan Roach says the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s previous colonial status has influenced the religious demographics.
“Being a former Belgian colony, there’s a large Roman Catholic population,” Roach said.
Barnabas Aid U. S. Director Julian Dobbs says the reports coming from the Congo indicate M23 is zeroing in on Christians, without distinction.
“I don’t think M23 is discriminating between Catholic or evangelical Christians. It’s an ongoing struggle because they’re specifically targeting Christians,” Dobbs said.
“I don’t think they’re discriminating against evangelicals, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were locating the specifically self-proclaimed Christians. However, there’s generally no distinction,” Dobbs said.
Roach says that based on the details, no one is safe.
“It’s my understanding that the entire population of the Eastern Congo is being threatened – women with rape and murder, men with murder and forced conscription and children, all three,” Roach said.
“According to the United Nations Human Rights Commission, over 3 million people are at risk, and we’re looking at 1.7 million internally displaced persons,” Roach said.
Roach adds that the only response from the international community has been through a massive U.N. operation.
“In terms of action by the international community, the U.N. peacekeeping mission, MONUSCO (the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo), has been around for nearly thirteen years and is equipped with 19,055 military personnel from 58 countries, the largest existence,” Roach said.
“Last June, the U.N. General Assembly passed MONUSCO’s budget – $1.4 billion, also making it the most expensive peace keeping force in existence,” Roach said.
In terms of dollars spent and return on the investment, Roach estimates that the operation has achieved very little.
“Despite its cost and manpower, MONUSCO has failed to professionalize the Congolese military, FARDC,” Roach said.
Roach added that the Congolese army is little better than the rebels.
“FARDC soldiers are some of the gravest violators of human rights and have questionable loyalties, considering many of them were once rebels,” Roach said.
She said that the people were left to the mercy of M23.
“When M23 invaded Goma a few weeks ago, FARDC retreated and MONUSCO wasn’t far behind,” Roach said. “Peacekeepers literally ran away, leaving their charges to fend for themselves.
“The Obama administration and Congress need to revisit MONUSCO’s effectiveness and examine if the mandate needs to be changed or the entire production be scrapped all together. After thirteen years, and such massive resources at its disposal, the fact that MONUSCO has had such impact is inexcusable,” Roach also said.
While M23 allegedly rapes Christian women and is reported to be taking the young boys to fight, the rebels and the government are reportedly scheduled to begin peace talks in the Ugandan capital city of Kampala.
Agence France-Presse reports that the talks will begin Friday and that the rebels will demand serious changes.
The report said M23 fighters, largely from the ethnic Tutsi community, pulled out of Goma at the weekend.
CNN reported in 2011 that the Congo is now the “rape capital of the world.”
British filmmaker Fiona Lloyd-Davies wrote that she was astounded at the statistics.
“Reports record that 48 women are raped every hour. I have been working in the region for 10 years and have seen a tragic development in this unpunished crime against the heart of society,” Lloyd-Davies said.
M23 is reported to be the successor of a previous rebel group.
“M23 is a relatively new rebel group that surfaced last April. Its predecessor is the CNDP, the National Congress for the Defense of the People,” Roach said. “And before that the RCD, the Rally for Congolese Democracy.”
“M23 gets its name from the March 23, 2009, peace agreement between CNDP and the Kabila government, which the leaders of M23 argue was never implemented. Whether it was or not, is a gray area – meaning yes and no,” Roach said.
“M23 is led by Bosco Ntaganda. He is wanted by the ICC for war crimes, particularly the conscription of child soldiers,” Roach said.
Roach states both Rwanda and Uganda have supported M23 and that the government of Rwanda has supplied weapons and some manpower for M23’s operations.
“It’s believed that Ntaganda take his orders directly from Kigali, the capital of Rwanda,” Roach said. “His predecessor, Laurent Nkunda, also took orders from Kigali.
“When Nkunda appeared to get a little too ambitious, Kagame had him arrested and I believe he’s still under house arrest.”