Features

Military, missionaries

International | Both are heavily engaged in Zairian and Albanian crises

Issue: "Reno Under Fire," April 26, 1997

Faraway crises-human or constitutional-are quickly forgotten by American news outlets. But the two stories below have found an oddly durable shelf life. Human tragedy combined with sweeping governmental changes sustain them as front-page news. U.S. soldiers have the mission of somehow stopping the violence and containing each conflict. American missionaries and Christian leaders also continue to play pivotal roles worth following.

"Welcome to the Congo"

What began as a motley raid on refugee camps along Zaire's eastern border with Rwanda last November has turned into a revolutionary campaign for the country's capital, Kinshasha. With most of Zaire-including two of its three largest cities and the central mining region-in the hands of the rebel army, students and laborers last week began paralyzing strikes against the government in Kinshasha.

No one believed the rebel leader, Laurent Kabila, would so successfully integrate malcontents and ethnic Tutsis into an army capable of a nationwide offensive. Nor did anyone believe Zaire's President Mobutu Sese Seko, nicknamed "the Leopard," would consent to change his spots. After 30 years of wielding autocratic power and robbing Zaire's natural resources, Mobutu refuses Mr. Kabila's demand that he step down. But he has remained mostly out of the country and his own army is disintegrating.

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A roadless rain forest remains between the westward advancing rebels and the capital, yet Mr. Kabila's men confidently erect hand-painted signs at border crossings reading, "Welcome to the Congo." Mr. Kabila wants to return his country to its pre-Mobutu name. He also wants to end Western influence which for many years fueled Mobutu's rule.

In his quest, the Kabila forces have left hundreds of thousands of refugees, mostly Rwandans. Jim Lindquist of Berean Mission (see WORLD, Jan. 19) has remained throughout the conflict at his jungle station near Shabunda, where at one point 250,000 Hutu refugees were driven by the rebel Tutsis and corrupt government armies. His supplies of food and medicine were near exhaustion by December.

It took until February for aid workers from more than five international groups to succeed in replenishing his station at Katshungu with more than 400 pounds of medicine and supplies. To do that required two days of travel, 10 four-wheel-drive vehicles, and three winches for the 125-mile trip from Bukavu.

Even so, the last of the trip had to be finished on foot. Since then a more efficient, if primitive, system of way stations and convoys-with pack mules and burros the preferred mode of transportation-has been set up to supply the hospital station at Katshungu and returning refugees.

With rebels now moving eastward, many refugees are circling back, trying to reach Rwanda or international aid that has returned to the eastern cities and villages. Some have made 300-mile treks in the last five months, only to return to where they began. Aid groups report hundreds dying each day of disease and malnutrition.

Relief workers who left during December and January fighting have returned in earnest. At Goma, World Relief has restarted where it once worked among the largest refugee camps. Now the evangelical-based group is working with church-based ministries, not only to feed the hungry but to help them feed themselves. Workers hand out seed packets to traveling refugees and have helped start a rotating livestock program: Families given a cow or a goat promise to return one of its offspring to the program.

In western Zaire government troops prepared for battle as Mr. Kabila's forces made progress through rain forests by floating southward down the Zaire River toward Kinshasha. The U.S. embassy in the capital said it was not yet ready to call for an evacuation of Americans but seemed certain to do so.

More than 1,300 Marines and other U.S. forces near Zaire maintained "a very high state of awareness and preparedness," according to a Pentagon spokesman, as a show of force and for evacuations. The USS Kearsage made ready to sail this week from Norfolk, Va., to the coast of Africa. The amphibious assault ship, carrying the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, is meant to replace the USS Nassau which has been stationed there. But presumably the Kearsage could reinforce the Nassau and help with an evacuation if necessary.

"Berisha's days are numbered"

For Albania, the promise of multi-party elections in June and the arrival of a multinational peacekeeping force this week promise much-needed stability. Schools remain closed, however, and embassy travel warnings are still in place.

Missionaries, too, remain in danger. Like Albanian bystanders, several were wounded during March street fighting by weapons fired carelessly into the air. Dave Fyock of Missionary Aviation Fellowship confirmed for WORLD that in at least two instances missionaries, including family members, were held at gunpoint while their homes and workplaces were looted. &quotThey are still in a very critical situation and have requested that for security's sake their names and city not be released," he said. MAF estimates that 50 out of 600 Western missionaries remained in Albania after most were evacuated in March.

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