NAIROBI, Kenya — As they mourned the killing of the Italian ambassador to their country, Congo’s Catholic bishops said the nation’s deaths, massacres, kidnappings and displacement underlined the toxic state of security, especially in the mineral-rich eastern regions.
The Feb. 22 killing of Italian Ambassador Luca Attanasio and two others shocked the country and the international community, but it also drew attention to the cycle of violence troubling regions rich in gems and minerals, the bishops said in a statement released after a late-February Standing Committee meeting in Kinshasa, the Congolese capital. The ambassador, his Italian bodyguard and their driver were killed when their car, part of a U.N. convoy, was attacked in Goma, Congo.
“Total insecurity reigns here. If it is possible to kill a diplomat of this rank in such a manner, think about what can happen to ordinary villagers,” Bishop Sebastien Muyengo Mulombe of Uvira told Fides, news agency of the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.
In the week of the diplomat’s death, at least 32 people were killed in the eastern Congo provinces of North Kivu and Ituri. The people were killed in a series of attacks blamed on the militias operating in the region.
According to the bishops, the recurring presence of armed groups that the national army, backed by U.N. peacekeeping troops, has been unable to eradicate is the main cause of the worsened security.
Catholic Church officials report various militias and terrorist groups operate in eastern Congo; many are backed by foreign governments. The Allied Democratic Forces, militants allied with the Islamic State group, are being blamed for many of the killings.
Among other key recommendations, the bishops want President Felix Tshisekedi to guarantee national cohesion and security throughout the country’s territory.
“We are deeply saddened by the information received and the gap between the promises made and the reality on the ground experienced by the population in these regions devastated by the armed groups,” said the bishops.
Since the killing of the ambassador, Tshisekedi has banned diplomats from traveling to Congo’s rural areas without his government’s permission.
Last year, a group from the Association of Episcopal Conferences of Central Africa and the Congolese bishops’ conference traveled to two eastern dioceses to listen and comfort the people.