Efforts underway to secure release of abducted Italian missionaries

The Roman Catholic Church in Sierra Leone is trying to secure the release of two Italian missionaries who were abducted by armed men who had crossed into Guinea from Sierra Leone on Wednesday.

"We are trying to establish contact with whoever took them," Bishop George Biguzzi told IRIN on Friday. "We hope that they treat them well because they were well known in the region for what they were doing for the people."

Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels are suspected of kidnapping the reverends Franco Manganello, 62, and Vittorio Mosele, 64, in a pre-dawn attack on the town of Pamalap, about 100 km southeast of Guinea's capital, Conakry. An Italian layman, Giuseppe Giacomello, was with the Xaverian missionaries as gunfire approached the town. He left the house, despite warnings from the priests, and was immediately robbed by two gunmen.

"I found shelter in the village cemetery. I spent Wednesday night hidden between two graves, as the fierce fighting continued between the Guinean regular troops and the Sierra Leonean rebels," Giacomello, 60, told the Missionary News Agency (MISNA).

When it was safe later in the morning, he said he contacted Guinean soldiers who took him to the house from which he initially escaped. "There was no trace of the two missionaries," he said. "According to various witnesses, the two fathers were abducted by the rebels and brought to Sierra Leone."

"We don't know exactly where they are," Biguzzi said. One of them, Father Vittorio Mosele, had been abducted by the RUF once before.