Tribal militia forces have kidnapped two Roman Catholic priests in the troubled North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, officials said Monday.
Kidnappings are frequent in this eastern part of the DRC, related to communal conflict between the Nande and Hunde tribes on one hand and ethnic Hutus on the other. The two priests come from the Nande ethnic group.
"The curate Charles Kipasa and the vicar Jean-Pierre Akili ... were taken overnight by Mai-Mai who led them off to the mountains. They also took two vehicles and two motorbikes," Bishop Paluku Sikuli of the Beni-Butembo region told AFP.
"I confirm the kidnapping of two priests from the Catholic parish of Bunyuka by unknown armed persons," the administrator of the province's northern Beni district, Amisi Kalonda, said. "Our defence and security services are working to find them."
"The kidnappers abandoned the two vehicles that were transporting them," Kalonda added.
In 2012, three priests were abducted near Beni by Ugandan rebels of the Allied Democratic Forces, who have been driven out of neighbouring Uganda and are notorious for their cruelty. There has been no word of them since.
Local communities like the Nande, Hunde and Kobo, who form the majority population in North Kivu, regard Hutus as foreigners originating in neighbouring Rwanda. Rivalry over land and resources date back for generations.
The Mai-Mai first emerged as community self-defence groups formed on a mainly ethnic basis.
During the Second Congo War (1998-2003), many of these groups were armed by the distant Kinshasa authorities to help battle invading Ugandans and Rwandans.
Rich in precious minerals, the east of the DRC has been unstable for 20 years. Several dozen local and foreign armed groups stand accused of serious rights abuses against civilians, such as rape, killings and abductions.