By Paul-Marin Ngoupana
BANGUI, Feb 25 (Reuters) - Ugandan rebels crossed into Central African Republic and ambushed an army patrol triggering clashes that killed several fighters, a colonel in the republic’s armed forces said on Wednesday.
The ambush raises fears of more attacks in Central African Republic by Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) fighters fleeing a Ugandan-led multinational offensive against their hideouts in northern Democratic Republic of Congo.
"Our men were on a routine patrol on Friday when they were ambushed by LRA fighters," said the army colonel, who declined to be identified. The attack happened in the remote southeast of the country, which is sandwiched between Congo and Sudan.
"They were routed by the heavy retaliation from our soldiers. One of our officers and a soldier were injured ... I cannot give the exact number we killed, but those who survived were chased to the other side of the Sudan border," he said.
LRA rebels have killed nearly 900 civilians in a string of reprisal attacks against villages across the border in northeastern Congo since the Ugandan army began an offensive against their positions there in mid-December.
The LRA and its reclusive leader Joseph Kony has waged a 22-year war against the Kampala government, devastating northern Uganda through years of killing, looting and kidnapping of children as fighters, porters and sex slaves.
Kony and many of his fighters left their hideouts in southern Sudan in 2005 and established bases in northeast Congo’s Garamba National Park, which Ugandan warplanes targeted in a bombing spree when it launched its latest campaign.
The LRA fighters have since spread out and split up into several different groups.
Fearing they would cross the border, Central African Republic sent extra soldiers last month to step up patrols in its remote southeastern region, where LRA fighters invaded and kidnapped around 150 people in a looting spree in early 2008.
"The chief of staff sent several military detachments to reinforce our soldiers and they are mounting daily patrols to defend against any eventuality and prevent the LRA who have been hunted and dispersed in small groups in the forest of Congo and southern Sudan ending up in our territory," he said.
Isolated and chronically poor despite gold, diamond and uranium deposits, CAR faces its own internal conflicts.
Bands of gunmen and several rebel groups are still active in the north despite talks late last year that was meant to end years of instability. (Writing by Alistair Thomson; Editing by David Lewis and Katie Nguyen)