Political News

Dad: American UN worker kidnapped in Congo strived for peace

Posted March 16

— An American United Nations worker who was among six people kidnapped in the Democratic Republic of Congo was doing humanitarian work and has had some success in persuading militia leaders to give up child soldiers, his father said.

Michael Sharp, 34, believes that years of violence in eastern Congo have solved nothing and was working to do something about it, his father, John Sharp, told The Wichita Eagle.

Michael Sharp and a Swedish U.N. worker, Zahida Katalan, were abducted along with three Congolese drivers and a translator while driving through the Kasai Central province, a Congo government spokesman said Monday.

The kidnappers haven't been identified. The U.N. mission in Congo, known as MONUSCO, confirmed Monday that two experts from the mission had disappeared in the country and said it was doing everything possible to find them.

The U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa said in a statement that it was aware of the reports of a missing U.S. citizen and was monitoring the situation closely.

Michele Miller Sharp, who is Michael Sharp's mother and John Sharp's wife, told The Elkhart Truth, of Indiana, on Tuesday that they believe their son is alive but that finding him will be tedious due to the many militia groups in that area.

"The U.N. has been investigating in the area and no bodies have been found," she said. "At the same time there has also been no proof of life. Investigators, though, still have no idea which militia group is responsible for the attack."

She said the last few days had been difficult for the family. She and her husband live in Hesston, Kansas, where he is a professor at Hesston College.

"He worked hard for peaceful solutions in everything he faced," she said. "We hope that there will be a peaceful solution here as well."

John Sharp told the Eagle that Michael, or M.J., knew the risks.

"We're hopeful," John Sharp said. "The U.N. has been good about staying in touch with us. M.J. is resourceful. He's smart. He knows the culture, knows the games. If anybody can get out, he will."

Michael Sharp previously spent three years in Germany counseling U.S. troops who were interested in becoming conscientious objectors, his father said. Before joining the U.N., he worked for three years for the Mennonite Central Committee in Central Africa.

Congo is home to multiple militias competing for stakes in its rich mineral resources. John Sharp said that with the U.N., his son has had some success in persuading militia leaders to give up child soldiers.

He said he last spoke to his son in late February.

"We came to terms with his work quite some time ago," John Sharp said. "We have known that this is his life and passion. We are fully supportive. We're concerned, yes, but we have visualized this moment. We've hoped it would not come, but we've known that it could."

Michael Sharp grew up in Indiana before moving with his parents to Kansas in 2005. He graduated from Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, and lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, when not working abroad.

"We're hoping for a resolution that does not include violence, and we've expressed that to the (United Nations)," John Sharp said. "It would be ironic if that were used to rescue him when he has committed his life to nonviolent resolution. We hope and pray for his rescue and delivery."

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