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Rebels kidnap archbishop in Sierra Leone


Archbishop Joseph Henry Ganda of Freetown in Sierra Leone has been taken hostage by rebel forces, according to an Italian news service report Jan. 14. The story broke just hours after two missionary priests were freed from the rebels by Nigerian troops.

MISNA, a Rome-based missionary news agency, reported that the archbishop had been abducted by the rebels Jan. 12 or 13 from his Freetown residence. Ganda, 66, is a native of Sierra Leone.

Rebel forces have been fighting in the streets of Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital, against government troops backed by a West African intervention force called ECOMOG, largely made up of Nigerian soldiers. At press time ECOMOG seemed poised to recapture the city, though the rebels continued to carry out ambushes.

News accounts said that the rebels were communicating about Ganda’s kidnapping with the archbishop of the northern Makeni diocese, George Biguzzi.

Biguzzi is the head of the bishops’ conference in Sierra Leone, a country on Africa’s northwest coast where Catholics are approximately 3 percent of a population of 4.5 million.

In a Vatican Radio interview Jan. 12, before word of Ganda’s abduction, Biguzzi said he had spoken with rebels about a third kidnapped priest. That priest, Fr. Mario Guerra, was released “temporarily” by the rebels Jan. 12 but then taken back into hiding.

According to the Vatican Radio story, Guerra was permitted to visit a house in Freetown where he lunched with seven members of the Daughters of Charity and spoke over a radio with Biguzzi.

Biguzzi said that he believed Ganda was being held in the same place as Guerra.

Fr. Giuliano Pini, one of the two priests freed Jan. 13, described conditions in Freetown as “apocalyptic.” The BBC reported that Pini spoke of many houses that had been ruined and burnt-out cars that were littering the city’s narrow streets.

Vatican Radio said that Pini and the other priest, Maurizio Boa, had been used by the rebels as human shields during fighting at the presidential palace.

News accounts said that hundreds of thousands of people in Freetown are desperately short of food and water, and most areas are without power. They say there are many dead bodies in the city and that they must be buried soon to prevent the spread of contagious diseases. About 200 corpses are reported to be lying near a hospital in the city’s center.

National Catholic Reporter, January 22, 1999