By Stephanie McCrummen
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
NAIROBI, Dec. 29 -- A Ugandan rebel group known for its horrific cruelties has massacred 189 people and kidnapped at least 20 children over three days in northeastern Congo, U.N. officials reported Monday.
The cultlike Lord's Resistance Army carried out the attacks on three villages between Thursday and Saturday, according to Ivo Brandau, a spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Congolese capital, Kinshasa.
The group killed 40 people in the small town of Faradje on Thursday, and over the next two days, it attacked the villages of Doruma, where rebels massacred 89 people, and neighboring Gurba, where 60 were killed, Brandau said, citing reports that the United Nations received from local authorities.
A Ugandan army spokesman told the Associated Press that the attack in the village of Doruma included a massacre of people who had sought refuge in a Catholic church. Brandau could not confirm that account, but he said the manner of the attacks had "certainly been cruel." He added that the entire village of Faradje was abandoned as rebels burned down 120 houses and looted shops and a hospital.
The misery wrought by the Lord's Resistance Army in the remote corner of northeastern Congo is distinct from the misery caused by a Congolese rebellion to the south, where renegade Gen. Laurent Nkunda has advanced across a swath of territory, displacing more than 200,000 people since August.
The three-day rampage by the Lord's Resistance Army followed a joint military operation against the group by Uganda, Congo and semiautonomous southern Sudan. The Ugandan-led offensive began Dec. 14 with bombing raids on rebel bases in Congo's Garamba National Park, where the group fled this year. Officials speculated that the massacres represented retaliation or a show of force in response to the offensive.
Although the Lord's Resistance Army is associated with the political grievances of the Acholi people of northern Uganda, the group has mostly terrorized the Acholis over the past 20 years, proving to be more of a psychotic cult than a true rebellion. Its reclusive, messianic leader, Joseph Kony, claims to consult spirits and says he aims to establish a theocracy based on the Ten Commandments.
Over the years, however, his movement has earned a reputation as one of the most brutal groups on the continent, sexually enslaving young girls, abducting children and forcing new recruits to machete friends to death during induction ceremonies. The group has killed or disfigured more than 10,000 people -- cutting off victims' lips was a trademark -- and abducted more than 20,000 children, as well as forced more than 2 million people to flee their homes, rights groups say.
In 2005, the International Criminal Court indicted Kony on 33 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes. A year later, he turned up in southern Sudan, claiming to be a "man of peace."
The Ugandan government of President Yoweri Museveni attempted to negotiate with Kony, sending delegates to secret locales in the bush and promising amnesty to fighters who abandoned the group.
But after months of talks, Kony failed to attend several signing ceremonies to formally end the rebellion. Meanwhile, his ragged band of 1,500 fighters continued to launch attacks in southern Sudan, Congo and the Central African Republic.
After preparations began for the joint military operation, code-named Lightning Thunder, Kony fled to Congo, where his group is apparently regaining momentum, according to the New York-based Human Rights Watch and U.N. officials.
"Since September, there have been attacks on villages," Brandau said. "Tens of thousands of people have had to flee. There have been people killed in villages, lootings, burnings, abducting of children -- the same pattern as the past week, but on a smaller scale."
The U.N. Security Council has praised the Ugandan-led offensive, which has included assaults by fighter jets. So far, however, neither Kony nor any of his top lieutenants has been killed or captured.