A friend of my wife’s parents is a priest from Congo. He came here shortly before the civil war began to become a pilot and study airplane mechanics, in order to serve the needs of his people back home. Since the war began, his parents, his siblings, and his bishop have been killed. He’s been waiting for the day when it is safe to return.
This story is sad enough all by itself; but I read it and realized it’s been a ten year wait.
Kitchanga, Congo – The prisoners are huddled in a classroom, on display for journalists visiting the rebels led by Gen. Laurent Nkunda. The setting is appropriate, because half of these soldiers are boys who should be in school but have been pressed into war.
“[T]hey told us we were going to fight the Tutsis,” says Bahati, speaking in the presence of a rebel intelligence officer. “I’m 14, but there are many boys younger than me. It’s hard to know how many died in battle, but I saw two who died.”
Nowhere has the use of child soldiers been as pernicious as in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. But in the past three years of relative peace, militia groups as well as the Army were starting to send their adult soldiers into an integrated Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the FARDC, and to send their child soldiers home to their families. But a recent bout of fighting – a tangled conflict of local ethnic militias, Rwandan rebels, and the Congolese Army – is putting that progress at risk. Untold hundreds and even thousands of young boys and girls are being forced to rejoin the fight, or to fight for the first time in a war that few of them understand.
Father Denis with Beth on her sixth birthday.