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Thursday, 17 February, 2000, 14:55 GMT
Priest killed in DR Congo

By Chris Simpson in Kigali

There have been conflicting accounts of how a Catholic priest came to be killed in the rebel-held east of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The main rebel movement has blamed the murder on hostile militia groups but other sources suggest the rebels or their allies killed the priest.
Battle for the heart of Africa
The murder comes at a sensitive time, with the Catholic church and the rebel authorities locked in a stand-off over a rebel banning order on the Catholic archbishop of Bukavu.

Remis Pepe, a 30-year-old Congolese priest, was murdered on Tuesday at his parish in Kiliba, north of the rebel-held city of Uvira in eastern Congo.

Two of his parishioners were killed in the same attack.

Uneasy relations

He is not the first priest to have been killed in a notoriously unstable part of Congo but his death comes at a critical moment.

Last week the Congolese Rally for Democracy, or RCD. announced a ban on Monsignor Emmanuel Kataliko, declaring him persona non grata and preventing him from returning to his diocese.

Pope John Paul II Pope John Paul II: Has entered the row with the rebels
The local Catholic Church responded with what it described as a sacramental strike - its priests declining to celebrate mass in protest at the ban.

Pope John Paul II has issued his own appeal for Monsignor Kataliko, urging that he be allowed back to Bukavu.

The RCD has blamed Remis Pepe's death on Congolese Mayi-Mayi warriors or Rwandan Interahamwe militia fighters, two of the many armed groups at large in the Uvira region, both challenging rebel sovereignty.

But a human rights activist in Bukavu told me he suspected Rwandan or RCD troops of having carried out the killing.

That view looks likely to be taken up by the Catholic Church, which has always been ready to believe the worst of the rebels and has constantly sought to expose alleged human rights violations.

The RCD is infuriated by the Church's hostility but is also aware that the Vatican is far more popular in eastern Congo than the rebels or their Rwandan backers.

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See also:
16 Feb 00 |  Africa
Pope defends Congo bishop
02 Feb 00 |  Africa
Congo rebels 'crack down' on civilians
24 Jan 00 |  Africa
African leaders demand UN deployment
29 Jan 00 |  Africa
End Congo massacres, urges aid agency
08 Jul 99 |  Africa
Congo peace plan: the main points
09 Feb 00 |  Africa
US backs UN force for Congo

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