26 August 1996 - PRESS RELEASE- for immediate use

Three Sisters, two Priests and a Brother prisoners of the SPLA in Mapourdit (Southern Sudan)

Friday 23 August a delegation composed of Andrea A. Maketh, newly appointed by the SPLA as Commissioner for Yirol County, Msgr. Caesar Mazzolari, Apostolic Administrator Diocese of Rumbek and Fr. Kizito Sesana, responsible for the SCIO, flew from Nairobi to Akot in order to witness the release of six missionaries. Rumors had reached Nairobi that the missionaries had been under house arrest since 17 August. The Nairobi SPLA office attributed this to the action of a local commander and told the press they would be freed by noon of the same 23 August.

When the delegation arrived in Akot the missionaries were not at the airstrip, as expected. The delegation asked to proceed to Mapourdit, the actual mission station, at about 35 km from Akot, where the six missionaries are running a parish, a primary school with 1,500 students and a dispensary. The delegation was able to proceed to Agany, in the vicinity of Mapourdit, at the office of the Commissioner. When the local military commander arrived, it was negotiated that the delegation could see and speak first with the four missionaries held in Row Prison, also in the vicinity, and see the other two, still held in the compound of Mapourdit Mission. The four in prison were: Sr. Moira Lynch, 73, Australian; Sr. Mary Batchelor, 68, Australian; Fr. Michael Barton, 48, American; Fr. Raphael Riel, 48, Sudanese and Vicar General of Rumbek Diocese.

Sr. Maureen Carey, 52, Australian and Brother Raniero Iacomella, 26, Italian, were said to be free, but held in the compound of the Mission for "their own security". In the afternoon the delegation was able to see the four prisoners for few minutes, and they appeared to be in good physical conditions.

At the later meeting with the military commander of Rumbek and Yirol Counties, Daniel Deng Manydit, the delegation learned that the local commander had acted with his knowledge and consent; that no instructions to release the prisoners had been received and that they will be held until investigations are completed. The charges against the four missionaries were stated as: "hindering SPLA recruitment, being found in possession of documents proving that they are spies from foreign countries, working for the spread of Islam under the disguise of the Cross".

In the meantime Msgr. Mazzolari was able to put together from morsels of information collected from people what had happened. Saturday 17 at 5.30 a.m.
the mission was surrounded and seal off. The evening of the same day the missionaries were put in prison or in isolation. Later the mission was looted.
Several Christians as well as the Commissioner expressed to Msgr. Mazzolari their conviction that the action was a mistake condemned by the majority of civilians, and pleaded with him to organize for a quick restart the school as soon as the situation will normalize.

Sunday 25 in the morning at 11 am Msgr. Mazzolari and Fr. Kizito decided to go back to Nairobi to inform the embassies of the concerned people and the media on the real situation in Mapourdit, an to intensify contacts with the SPLA leadership. Msgr. Mazzolari appeals to the SPLA leadership the guarantee the well-being of the missionaries while the investigations take their course, and, certain that the missionaries will prove to be totally innocent, is on his side more than willing to continue humanitarian, educational and religious work at the service of the civilians in Mapourdit area.

For further information, please contact:
Fr. Kizito, SCIO, tel +254.2.562247 - fax +254.2.566668 - e-mail:


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