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May 11, 2000 GC-064

Church seeks end to hostilities in Philippines, Congo

CLEVELAND (UMNS) — United Methodism's highest legislative gathering passed three resolutions May 11 calling for an end to the armed conflicts in the Philippines, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The resolution on the Philippines revolved around the conflict on Mindanao, the largest island in the southern Philippines, smaller islands near Malaysia that border Borneo and the Moluccan Islands of Indonesia.

Islam is strong on those islands, while the rest of the Philippines is largely Roman Catholic. Many people are seeking independence or autonomy for their areas. Some entities, such as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, seek both independence and the establishment of an Islamic government.

The conflict escalated with the recent kidnapping of tourists in Malaysia who are now being held in the Philippines. In addition, bus bombings and other violence are occurring daily.

The resolution rejoices at the release of 15 hostages held by Muslim rebels and expresses agony for 21 remaining hostages. It also condemns the violent outbreaks between the rebels and the Philippine government in 14 localities in Mindanao, including those in Sulo and Basilan islands.

Delegates to the General Conference included a long list of actions in the resolution. The most important included a prayer that hostilities immediately cease and a call for people to recognize the right of everyone to be in community with each other "in the hope of a just world order, upholding how all persons and groups must feel secure in their life and right to live within a society if order is to be achieved and maintained by law."

The United Methodist Church has seen some of its strongest membership growth in recent years in the Philippines. The denomination has about 67,000 lay members there, according to church statistics.

Likewise, Africa is a major growth area for the church, which has more than 1 million members on the continent.

Turning their attention to Sierra Leone, the delegates noted that the country’s peace agreement is jeopardized by rebel forces, which are continuing to terrorize and commit atrocities against citizens. The resolution mentioned suffering, mutilations, loss of life and destruction of property.

By passing this resolution in an 844-18 vote, delegates expressed prayer support for the victims of violence; appealed to President Clinton, the British prime minister and other world leaders and citizens to assist in halting the hostilities in Sierra Leone, particularly in the capital of Freetown; urged the United Nations to provide financial and logistical support to keep, maintain and enforce the peace; and called for the immediate return of the West African Peace Keeping Force to work with the U.N. mission in Sierra Leone.

Delegates also adopted a resolution expressing concern for the Congo, which has experienced 10 years of war. The General Conference heard of atrocities committed against citizens, especially women, by Rwandan, Ugandan and Burundian troops in the Congo.

Despite promises by the presidents of Rwanda and Uganda to end the war, "hostilities by both countries against our people have not ceased. Instead, they are perpetrating a genocide in our country," the Congolese representatives said.

General Conference delegates voted 862 to 15 to plead with President Clinton and the U.S. Congress to work with the U.N. Security Council and demand the withdrawal of Rwandan, Ugandan and Burundian troops from the Congo. If the countries refuse to withdraw, the delegates ask that the United States and the United Nations impose an arms embargo on them.

By adopting this resolution, the delegates affirmed their financial, political and spiritual support for the peace initiatives of the All Africa Congress of Churches and United Methodist Bishop Onema Fama, episcopal leader in the Congo.

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--Linda Green

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