Saturday, March 27, 2010


Fleeing Rebels Kill Hundreds of Congolese
By Jeffrey Gettleman
The New York Times, March 27, 2010
"Depleted by an American-backed offensive and seemingly desperate for new conscripts, the Lord's Resistance Army, one of the most infamous armed groups in Africa, has killed hundreds of villagers in this remote corner of Congo and kidnapped hundreds more, marching them off in a vast human chain, witnesses say. The massacre and abductions are a major setback to the effort to stamp out the remnants of the group, a primarily Ugandan rebel force that fielded thousands of soldiers in the 1980s and '90s. But in recent years it has degenerated into a band of several hundred predators living deep in the bush in Congo, Sudan and the Central African Republic with child brides and military-grade weaponry. The United States is providing the Ugandan Army with millions of dollars' worth of aid -- including fuel, trucks, satellite phones, night-vision goggles and contracted air support -- to hunt the fighters down. It is one of the signature programs of Africom, the new American military command for Africa, which is working with the State Department to employ what officials call 'the three D's' -- defense, diplomacy and development -- to help African nations stabilize themselves. These efforts appeared to be succeeding, eliminating up to 60 percent of the Lord’s Resistance Army fighters in the past 18 months, American officials said. But that may have been why the fighters tore off on their raid, late last year, to get as many new conscripts as possible, along with medicine, clothes and food. They also kidnapped nurses from hospitals, witnesses said, and stripped blood-splattered clothes off corpses for themselves, a sign they are increasingly desperate. Human Rights Watch, which sent a team to investigate the killings in February, said the LRA killed at least 320 people in this area, calling the massacre one of the worst in the group's 23-year, atrocity-filled history. Witnesses said that the number of dead could be several hundred more, and that most victims had been taken from their villages, tied at the waist and forced into the jungle, often with enormous loads of looted food balanced on their heads. Along the way, fighters randomly selected captives to kill, usually by an ax blow to the back of the head. 'They only scream once,' said Jean-Claude Singbatile, a high school student who said that he spent 14 days in captivity and witnessed dozens of killings. What the attack shows, said Anneke Van Woudenberg, a Human Rights Watch researcher who was recently in Congo, 'is that whether they are weakened or not, the LRA's capacity to kill remains as strong as ever.' The events expose another troubling reality: Even as Congo's leaders are pushing the United Nations to begin withdrawing peacekeepers, partly to make the government look more independent from the West, this immense nation of nearly 70 million people remains as vulnerable as ever. [...]"

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