BANGUI Ugandan Lords Resistance Army (LRA) rebels kidnapped 55 people, half of them girls, in a raid on two villages in a remote eastern corner of Central African Republic, a local gendarme and a witness said on Monday.
The September 1 attack highlights the challenges facing Ugandan and U.S. Special Forces who are trying to help stretched local militaries end one of Africa's longest-running insurgencies that is blamed for killing thousands of civilians in several nations.
"The 55 people who were taken hostage were forced to act as porters carrying food and other basic goods they (the rebels) stole from these two villages," Nicolas Bondi, a gendarme based in Bangassou, 70 km (40 miles) away, told Reuters by telephone.
Bondi said 41 people were kidnapped from Balifondo and another 14 girls and boys were seized in nearby Zobe Mbari, some 800 km (500 miles) from the capital, Bangui.
"We don't have any vehicles to move quickly to react to this sort of situation. In this case, it was the (local administration) that leant us their car to carry the injured."
No local government officials were available for comment.
There was no immediate statement from the Ugandan and U.S. forces who are jointly hunting LRA rebels who left Uganda in 2005 but have since operated across Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and Central African Republic.
U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon warned in June that the international operation against the LRA, some of whose leadership is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes, lacked the resources needed to be effective.
Emmanuel Mbolindi, who said he witnessed the attack in Balifondo before escaping to Bangassou, said the attack started at dawn when about 20 rebels entered the village armed with AK47s, homemade hunting rifles and clubs.
"More than 15 men were injured and covered in blood after being clubbed while 19 girls aged between 9 and 14 were rounded up and tied together in the village," he said.
"I owe my life to my dog which chased off my attacker and I was able to escape," he said.
The attack follows a nearby clash days earlier between Ugandan forces and rebels under the command of Dominic Ongwen, one of the LRA commanders wanted by the ICC.
(Writing by David Lewis; Editing by Janet Lawrence)