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Congo: Appeals for international efforts for peace

02 February 1999

Letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, 2 February 1999.

Dear Mr Secretary-General,

I would like to thank you again for your video-taped message to the World Council of Churches Eighth Assembly, held last December in Harare. It was presented in a plenary session of the Assembly, and viewed appreciatively by the some 5000 delegates, observers and visitors in attendance. We were grateful for the opportunity, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to be able to demonstrate through your presentation the close relationship we have with the United Nations. In a special declaration on the occasion, the Assembly reiterated the WCC's commitment to the principles of the Declaration, and to the central role of the United Nations in implementing them.

Meeting in Harare, Assembly delegates experienced in person the terrible human cost and pain inflicted on Africans by the many conflicts raging on the continent. This has raised the sense of urgency felt by churches around the world to support our African brothers and sisters in their efforts to achieve peace and embark on the human reconstruction of Africa.

One can and should not draw up a hierarchy of suffering among the many conflicts, all are terrible. But some are worsening because they tend to be ignored by the international press and institutions. One of these is the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville), where in the dark shadow of neighboring conflicts, there is a general breakdown of social structures and escalating fighting more and more openly along ethnic lines.

It is not the intention of this letter, Mr Secretary-General, to inform you of a situation you know well and which you have addressed in public statements. Rather it is to share with you our deep concern and to offer you our support in your efforts to bring this situation back into view in the international community in order that some relief for the suffering population might be sought.

To this end, I have today sent a letter to President Chirac of France, a copy of which is attached for your information, urging his government to give more visible and urgent attention to this situation. In that letter I detail the situation experienced by the Christian communities of the Republic of Congo. Many church leaders who were instrumental in recent efforts to promote national reconciliation have been killed, others have been forced into hiding.

Remarkably, most church leaders have chosen to remain in the country, as close as possible to their communities, in the hope that circumstances will soon allow for them to retake their ministry of peace, tolerance and national reconciliation. It is in their name, and giving expression to their urgent concerns that I write, in hope that their and other voices of the people of Congo-Brazzaville can be heard and responded to at the table of the Security Council and in other international forums.

Respectfully yours,

Konrad Raiser
General Secretary

Letter to H.E. Jacques Chirac, President of the French Republic, 2 February 1999.

Monsieur le Président,

Depuis quelques semaines des appels de plus en plus angoissés parviennent au Conseil oecuménique des Eglises de la part de ses églises membres du Congo-Brazzaville. Ces appels confirment des informations en provenance de différentes sources faisant état d'une détérioration dramatique de la situation et d'une tournure catastrophique des événements dans le sens de massacres basés de plus en plus ouvertement sur 1'appartenance ethnique des populations.

Comme vous le savez, les églises du Congo-Brazzaville ont joué un rôle très courageux pour contribuer à un processus de réconciliation nationale après la guerre de 1997; et cela, au prix de la vie de plusieurs de leurs membres et d'un engagement remarquable de nombreuses communautés chrétiennes agissant en tant qu'acteurs de paix sur le terrain. Tous ces efforts sont malheureusement stoppés, si ce n'est anéantis, avec la nouvelle vague de terreur qui s'est abattue sur le Congo depuis la fin de 1'annee 1998.

Plus encore qu'une assistance humanitaire, qui pourtant est d'une vitale importance, nos interlocuteurs en appellent avant tout a une mobilisation de la communauté internationale qui soit à la hauteur de la gravité de la situation afin de contribuer à mettre fin aux combats.

C'est dans ce contexte, Monsieur le Président, que je me permets d'intervenir auprès de vous aujourd'hui, en tant que dirigeant d'un pays qui dispose de très sérieux atouts pour jouer un rôle déterminant en faveur d'un engagement plus important de la communauté internationale au Congo-Brazzaville.

Nous savons que la France a déjà accompli des efforts dans ce sens. Mais devant 1'evolution tragique de la situation et les craintes d'une aggravation imminente du conflit, nous voulons croire que d'autres interventions sont possibles au plan diplomatique auprès du gouvernement du Congo pour qu'il négocie l'arret des hostilités et s'engage dans un processus de pacification et de réconciliation.

L'intervention des Nations Unies et de l'Organisation de l'Unite africaine nous paraît également indispensable, tant il est vrai que la détérioration actuelle est aussi le résultat d'un manque d'attention suffisante de la part de la communauté internationale. Un récent rapport de 1'ONU constatait avec amertume que « les efforts de réconciliation nationale entrepris après la guerre de 1997 ont été entravés par la très faible réponse de la communauté internationale aux appels consolidés d'urgence lancés à la fin des cinq mois de conflit. »

De notre coté nous nous engageons avec les églises membres du Conseil oecuménique, en particulier celles de France, d'Europe et d'Afrique, à accompagner les efforts des Eglises du Congo pour la paix et la réconciliation et à les soutenir dans les moments difficiles qu'elles connaissent actuellement.

La VIII Assemblée du Conseil oecuménique des Eglises qui vient de se tenir en terre africaine au Zimbabwe, en décembre 1998, a réaffirmé avec force 1'engagement des églises à soutenir les processus de reconstruction et de réconciliation en Afrique. La crise qui déchire le Congo-Brazzaville en ce moment n'est pas la moindre des tragédies qui mobilisent notre soutien, et nous ne pouvons que regretter qu'elle n'ait pas reçu jusqu'à présent la visibilité médiatique qu'elle mériterait.

En souhaitant vivement que la France puisse accentuer son rôle d'acteur de paix dans ce pays et entraîner un engagement plus important de la communauté internationale dans ce sens, devant une situation qui risque de s'aggraver encore d'avantage, je vous prie de recevoir, Monsieur le Président, l'assurance de ma très haute considération.

Konrad Raiser
Secrétaire général

[TRANSLATION]

Mr President,

For several weeks the World Council of Churches has received ever more anguished appeals from its member churches in Congo-Brazzaville. These appeals confirm the reports we have received from different sources on the dramatic deterioration of the situation and on the catastrophic turn of events leading to massacres based more and more openly on the ethnic identities of the affected populations.

As you know, the churches of Congo-Brazzaville have played a very courageous role in contributing to a process of national reconciliation since the war of 1997 during which numerous Christian communities acted as exemplary peacemakers on the ground at the cost of the lives of a number of their members. All these efforts have been either stymied or annulled by the new wave of terror that has swept over the Congo since the end of 1998.

Even more than for humanitarian assistance, which is itself of vital importance, our partners appeal for a mobilization of the international community that would correspond to the gravity of the situation and help put an end to the fighting.
It is in this context, Mr President, that I place this situation before you as the leader of a country that is well equipped to play a significant role in engaging the international community in Congo-Brazzaville.

We know that France has already taken initiatives in this sense. However, in view of the tragic evolution of the situation and the fears of an imminent aggravation of the conflict, we believe that further diplomatic interventions with the government of the Congo, calling upon it to negotiate an end to the hostilities and to engage in a process of pacification and reconciliation, are urgently needed.

On our part, we are engaged with our member churches, especially those in France, Europe and Africa, in efforts to accompany the churches of the Congo in their efforts for peace and reconciliation and to support them in the present difficulties.

The Eighth Assembly of the WCC that met last December in Zimbabwe, on African soil, has strongly reaffirmed the churches' engagement to support the process of reconstruction and reconciliation in Africa. The crisis that now tears Congo-Brazzaville apart is one of those that demand the world's attention and we deeply regret that thus far it has not received the media attention that it deserves.

In the sincere hope that France might strengthen its role as an actor for peace in this country and vis-à-vis the international community, and in view of a situation that risks becoming still worse, I offer you, Mr President, the assurance of my highest esteem.

Konrad Raiser
General Secretary