Bishops in southern Congo have denounced growing separatist violence in Katanga province and criticized the national government for ignoring it.
"Besides grave violations of human rights, socio-political insecurity is disrupting our province's economic fabric and amplifying our people's misery," said bishops from the eight dioceses in the ecclesiastical province of Lubumbashi.
"We denounce the black hand which manipulates young people and transforms them into pitiless killers," the bishops said, noting young people were being forced to become child soldiers and kill other Congolese.
"Continually drugged and subjected to magic-religious practices, they are armed with assault rifles and small arms and promised unexpected happiness if they rob, pillage, rape and torture," the bishops said, warning, "Those who use young people should know they are committing crimes against humanity which may be referred to the International Criminal Court."
In a pastoral letter published Friday in the Le Congolais daily, the bishops criticized the central government in Kinshasa, saying it should be concerned with the people's suffering and take "account of their legitimate demands."
U.N. officials warned of a humanitarian catastrophe in Katanga province after an estimated 500,000 people were displaced by worsening violence. News reports said the Kata Katanga separatist movement had stepped up activities in the mineral-rich region's Mitwaba, Manono and Pweto districts, pillaging villages and mining operations and threatening Lubumbashi, the regional capital.
Reports added that Congolese army and U.N. peacekeeping forces were preoccupied by parallel conflicts of the country's North Kivu and Orientale provinces.
The bishops said they counted on government and U.N. officials to hear the Catholic church's "cry of distress" and act to end attacks on human dignity.
"Those displaced by war are mostly without humanitarian assistance and affected by high rates of death and sickness. Vulnerable small children, women and the elderly are among the most affected and dying en masse without proper care in the greatest distress," the bishops said.
They said the weakness of the government, unequal wealth distribution and legal impunity had contributed to the region's problems, and said the church had appealed since 2007, via its Commission for Natural Resources, for "an exploitation of natural riches" in which local people benefit.