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Besieged by the Lord's Resistance Army

A remote Congo town lives in fear of attacks by ruthless rebels who lurk in the forest.

BANGADI, Congo — They emerged from the bush at dawn, like apparitions in ragged clothes, matted hair — and with guns.

One of them, a woman, drifted down the dusty main street of the village whistling and writhing, as if in a trance, her bare skin glowing with an oily sheen.

“She was a sorcerer who wanted to make us think they were devils,” said Nicolas Akoyo Efoda, a local leader in the village of Bangadi in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Then, he said, “we shot her and killed her and then burned her body in the center of town."

Such has been the violent response of this otherwise peaceful farming community to an increasing number of brutal attacks by Uganda’s notorious Lord’s Resistance Army. 

The LRA, led by the self-styled mystic Joseph Kony, has waged a 20-year war in Uganda. Although Kony maintains he is fighting to establish a world based on the Ten Commandments, he has become known for his brutality. (More on Uganda's attempts to root out the Lord's Resistance Army in the Congo.)

The LRA has abducted more than 20,000 children for use as sex slaves and front-line fighters, according to Human Rights Watch. The LRA rebels have a reputation for grisly mutilations, such as hacking off the lips and ears of their victims. Many children were forced to kill their parents, so they would have no family to return to.

In recent years the LRA has moved into the lawless wilds of eastern Congo in an attempt to elude offensives by Uganda’s army and arrest warrants by the International Criminal Court for war crimes.

In late 2008, the Ugandan army followed them across the border at the invitation of the Congolese government. A series of attacks on LRA strongholds deep in Congo’s forest dislodged the rebels from their bases, but, like a wounded animal, the rebels became more dangerous than ever.

Hunted and on the run, the LRA has scattered into small groups of one or two dozen fighters — sometimes fewer — and is terrorizing a vast swath of Congo’s northeast, near the Sudanese and Ugandan borders.

The LRA has slaughtered more than 900 people in the last few months. Many of the victims have been hacked to death with machetes in a string of massacres in remote villages filled with thatched mud huts, according to Doctors Without Borders, the French medical aid group that has been treating injured Congolese civilians. The rebels also prey on civilians fleeing along distant roads through thick forests.