LRA rebels kill 12, kidnap 40 in northern Congo

Fri Mar 20, 2009 12:57pm EDT

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* Ugandan LRA rebels kill 12 villagers in attack

* Ugandan-led anti-LRA operation ends

* Rights campaigner says attacks on the increase



By Joe Bavier

KINSHASA, March 20 (Reuters) - Ugandan rebels hacked 12 people to death and kidnapped 40 more in a remote Congolese village near the end of a three-month multinational offensive against them, rights activists and relatives said on Friday.

Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) fighters entered the village of Yanguma, around 600 km (370 miles) north of Kisangani, the capital of Orientale province, on Thursday afternoon, the sources said.

"They were armed, but didn't use their weapons. They used machetes instead. They captured people and killed others," said Aruna Sambia, head of a civil society group in nearby Dungu.

The rebels, who have carried out one of Africa's longest running bush wars, fled across Democratic Republic of Congo's border after being driven out of Uganda and Sudan.

They are notorious for mutilating their victims and kidnapping children for use as sex slaves and child soldiers.

Uganda, Congo and South Sudan launched a joint assault on LRA bases in Congo's isolated Garamba National Park on December 14 after the rebels' leader, Joseph Kony, again failed to sign a peace deal to end his rebellion against the Ugandan government.

The operation is winding down and 1,500 Ugandan troops are due to leave by Monday. Congolese and Ugandan government and military officials have touted it as a success and say it has destroyed the rebels' main hideouts, forcing some to surrender.

However, the offensive brought a violent backlash by fleeing rebel fighters who have killed around 1,000 civilians, according to rights groups including New York-based Human Rights Watch.

"One member of my family is dead. He was my uncle. Young people were on their way to the market and were kidnapped. I know three who were taken," resident Bienvenu Akembano told Reuters.



INCREASED ATTACKS

Sambia said the Ugandan pullout has coincided with an increase in rebel attacks on villages left poorly defended by Congolese soldiers and peacekeepers from Congo's 17,000-troop strong United Nations mission, MONUC.

"There are more and more deaths. More and more kidnappings. They are attacking the population even more," he said.

The LRA raided the village of Banda, near Congo's border with Central African Republic, on Sunday, killing or kidnapping an unknown number of residents and detaining two foreign aid workers from the medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF).

"They were held for several hours but succeeded in escaping," said Claude Mahoudeau, an MSF spokesman for Congo.

"In this region, the population is living in a situation of insecurity and precariousness that is unacceptable," he said.

MSF was still trying to locate 12 patients it was treating in Banda at the time of the attack.

The joint offensive was unanimously backed by the U.N. Security Council but has been criticised by humanitarian agencies and human rights campaigners. They also accuse the U.N. force, which is mandated to protect civilians, of not doing enough to intervene and stop massacres.

The force is stretched across a country the size of Western Europe and is still awaiting the arrival of around 3,000 additional troops approved by the Security Council last year.

A U.N. military spokesman said on Friday the mission was in the process of boosting troops numbers in the violence-ravaged north and would deploy at least two attack helicopters in an effort to curb the violence there. (Editing by Alistair Thomson and Angus MacSwan)





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