.- Gunmen have abducted two Catholic priests in the Democratic Republic of Congo, prompting the country’s bishops to plead that the captives not be harmed.
“Priests are men of God who devote their lives to the good of the population without a political agenda. To hurt them is to harm the community they serve,” said the National Episcopal Conference of Congo.
The bishops called on security forces to do everything they could to free the two priests.
Fathers Charles Kipasa and Jean-Pierre Akilimali were abducted at Our Lady of the Angels parish in Bunyuka just before 10 p.m. Sunday, Reuters reports. About 10 assailants were involved in their abduction.
Bunyuka is in North Kivu province in the country’s east, fewer than 10 miles northeast of Butembo and near the border with Uganda.
The Congolese bishops’ statement noted that three other priests abducted in the same area in October 2012 still have not been released.
The border region, whose lands are rich in minerals, suffers from ethnic tensions and has been the site of wars and rebellions for two decades.
The nearby city of Beni has suffered major violence in the last two years. A series of nighttime massacres took place there beginning in October 2014. Unidentified attackers, mostly using hatchets and machetes, have killed hundreds in the city of 230,000 people.
In June an attack on Beni’s prison killed 11 people and freed over 930 prisoners. Another 12 people were killed in a raid on the city center by the Mai Mai militia coalition.
In December 2016, a nun in Bukavu, in neighboring South Kivu province, was murdered in an apparent robbery.
And that March, Fr. Vincent Machozi Karunzu was murdered by armed militants in North Kivu. He had documented human rights abuses in the country.