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Washington, D.C. (BWA) — Recent conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have displaced 250,000 people.

The latest outbreak of violence began in late October in the province of North Kivu in eastern DRC when a rebel group, the National Congress for the Defense of the People, engaged the Congolese army in armed conflict, and captured territories close to Goma, capital of North Kivu.

Leaders of three Baptist groups in the country sent a joint letter to the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) on Wednesday, Nov. 5, stating: “We, Union of Baptist Churches in Congo-Goma, Community of Baptist Churches of Eastern Congo, Association of Evangelical Baptist Churches in Congo, in our meeting held at Goma, decided to inform you about the crisis in North Kivu, our home town. The situation is critical because fighting continues around Goma. The lives of people are in danger because they do not have anything to survive.”

The leaders reported that rape and other assaults were being committed against women and young girls, and that “children are forced to join the rebels’ army.” Parents, they said, are being killed if they resist the conscription of their children.

Athanase Habimana, president of the Union of Baptist Churches in Congo-Goma, informed the BWA in a separate e-mail that “many children are now soldiers in rebel factions,” and that “Christians in Masisi and Rutshuru were forced to give their children.” Parents “did that as a way to save their lives because those who refused were killed.” He reported that one Baptist pastor’s young son was conscripted by the rebels two months ago.

Habimana told the BWA that people are in most need of food, medicine, blankets, shelter and counselling.

Baptist World Aid (BWAid), the relief and development arm of the BWA, has launched an international appeal on the behalf of those affected by the conflict. Paul Montacute, director of BWAid, said that “an urgent response is required,” and stated that BWAid will “help Baptists in Congo and neighboring countries to help these struggling people.”

The area has experienced extreme violence in recent times. In September 2007, heavy fighting in North Kivu resulted in the deaths of several Congolese soldiers and displaced hundreds of thousands of people, including Baptists.

Africa’s deadliest war in recent decades was fought in the DRC with much of the instability in North Kivu Province. Fought between 1998 and 2003, the war led to the death of an estimated four million people and the displacement of millions more in the DRC and bordering countries such Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda. Despite the formal end of the war in July 2003, skirmishes and intermittent conflicts have occurred in the area, including the latest clash.

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