June 5, 2009 / 4:47 PM / 8 years ago

Uganda's LRA rebels kidnap 135 Congolese villagers

* Ugandan LRA fighters abduct 135 Congolese villagers

* Rebels roaming despite Ugandan and Congolese offensive



By Joe Bavier

KINSHASA, June 5 (Reuters) - Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebels in Uganda kidnapped around 135 villagers, including children, in two attacks this week in Democratic Republic of Congo's north, a church official said on Friday.

LRA fighters raided the village of Dakwa around 200 km (125 miles) south of Congo's porous border with Central African Republic on Tuesday as residents gathered for a funeral, before returning to mount a second attack the following day, he said.

This week's attack is the latest in a series by the LRA, one of Africa's longest-running rebellions, which abandoned northern Uganda several years ago but continues to roam around Congo and Sudan despite the countries operations against them.

"They surrounded the village. The people were in mourning. They were taken away into the bush," said Marcel Kumbonyeki, the local Catholic priest in Bondo, some 200 km away, who was contacted by Dakwa's village priest soon after the attack.

"They carried out a second attack at 1400 (1200 GMT) on Wednesday. At that time a policeman was shot then stabbed to death, and they kidnapped the rest," he said.

Kumbonyeki said 138 people were kidnapped by the rebels in all, though three later escaped.

The local mission of the Swiss chapter of medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres was attempting on Friday to verify details of the attack.

"People are starting to come south from Dakwa to where they feel safer. They are coming in small groups," Pierluigi Testa, MSF's local coordinator, told Reuters.

The LRA was pushed out of northern Uganda in 2005 after its two-decade bush war killed thousands of people and displaced 2 million, but has continued to mount raids in remote corners of Central African Republic, Congo and Sudan.

Uganda led an offensive also involving Congolese soldiers against LRA strongholds in Congo's isolated Garamba National Park on Dec. 14 after LRA leader Joseph Kony again failed to sign a deal to end his rebellion.

LRA fighters fleeing the assault on their bases killed at least 271 people in a series week massacres that forced tens of thousands to flee their homes.

Coalition forces failed to locate Kony, and the majority of Ugandan troops deployed in Congo for the operations have left.

But the rebels have continued to attack villagers in a region that straddles Congo's borders with Sudan and Central African Republic, killing some 1,000 civilians since late December, according to Human Rights Watch.

Kony and several of his commanders are wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court in The Hague. (Editing by David Lewis)




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