31 August 1996 - PRESS RELEASE- for immediate use

Missionaries released by SPLA reach Nairobi

Friday 30 August at 5 p.m. five of the six missionaries who had been detained in Mapourdit (Southern Sudan) by the SPLA (Sudan People Liberation Army) since August 17 reached Nairobi. The three Australian Sisters - Sr. Moira Lynch, 72 Sr. Mary Batchelor, 67, and Sr. Maureen Carey, 52, - the American Fr. Michael Barton, 48, and the Italian Brother Raniero Iacomella, 26, are in good health. They were not tortured but they were physically mistreated.

Fr. Raphael Riel, 48, Sudanese and Vicar General of Rumbek Diocese is also free but chose to stay in Mapourdit to keep the mission open.

The missionaries were freed early in the evening of Wednesday 28 by the order of Commander Salva Kiir, second in command to Dr John Garang, that all processes against them be halted.The principal charge brought against the missionaries arose from a misunderstanding of what was written by two Sisters in personal letters to their families and friends in Australia. These letters referred to the recent forced recruitment of teachers and students by the SPLA and the mobilisation and movement of the young recruits out of the area. No doubt the concern of the international community pressured the SPLA leadership to initiate the release.

Other charges of being spies for foreign countries and for the Khatoum government, working for the spread of Islam under the disguise of the Cross and attacking the SPLA Movement were made during the detention by indvidual members of the SPLA local Yirol leadership. These were never officially referred to and were not mentioned at the time of arrest or release.

The missionaries are not shaken in their determination to continue to serve the people of Mapourdit Parish and of Rumbek Diocese. They believe that the real reason for their arrest was the desire of the local SPLA leadership to take over the mission. The letters simply provided an excuse to arrest the missionaries.

Bro. Raniero, a student at his first missionary experience, said: "I was in Mapourdit for only two months and I admired the tremendous work done by those missionaries in spite of the spartan living condition. The reception given to us by the local people after our liberation was moving. They expressed in clear term that they know we are innocent of the charges and that they want us to continue the work".

According to Msgr. Mazzolari the problem of security for the missionaries and of restoration of justice is still open. He says: "While we are grateful to the SPLA leadership of having taken the positive step of the liberation of the missionaries, we feel strongly that - as asked in the message released yesterday by the New Sudan Council of Churches - justice should be done. We want a serious inquiry into the responsibilities of the incident and we ask for the restitution to Mapourdit mission of the food and school items looted by the SPLA members after the detention of the missionaries.
The local people, the Sudanese living in Nairobi, including many SPLA members in a position of leadership, have expressed their support for the missionaries during their trial. The missionaries are respected and loved by the people for their work and their witness. We assure everybody that Mapourdit will not be closed".

Sudan Catholic Information Office
Bethany House - P. O. Box 21102 - Nairobi - Kenya
tel. +254.2.562247 or 569130   fax: +254.2.566668
Internet: or
For further information, please contact:
Fr. Kizito, SCIO, tel +254.2.562247 - fax +254.2.566668 - e-mail:


PeaceLink 1997