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Lord's Resistance Army blamed for killing 321 in northeastern Congo.
NAIROBI, Kenya — In the remote northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo, a notorious group of rebels has laid claim to the title of most crazed and murderous in Africa, killing at least 321 civilians and kidnapping hundreds more during a methodical rolling four-day attack on a string of villages.
Regional military officials had largely written off the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), convinced that the rebel group, which first emerged in Uganda in 1987, had been scattered into small ineffective units by a series of harassing assaults in late 2008 and early 2009. Over three months Ugandan and Congolese armies with U.S. support joined forces to hunt down the LRA and its elusive leader Joseph Kony.
It was said that the LRA’s subsequent disarray made them a less lethal fighting force, no longer a threat to the stability of this fragile region, a borderless forested badlands where Congo, Central African Republic, Uganda and Southern Sudan blend into one another.
But the revelation this week by investigators from the New York-based advocacy organization Human Rights Watch of the scale and brutality of the December 2009 attack made it clear the LRA remain a force to be reckoned with, at least by helpless civilians.
It was the bloodiest attack in a while and went unreported for months because of the sheer remoteness of the territory. Survivors in the Makombo area of Haut Uele district told of being tied up in human chains and marched through the forest, their fellow captives randomly
picked to have their heads smashed open with axes or to be hacked to death with machetes.
One witness who had fled to the nearby town of Niangara, where there is a small detachment of United Nations peacekeepers, known as MONUC, spoke of the “stench of death” that clung to his clothes and hung over his village for weeks following the attacks.
Most of the dead were men but amongst them were 13 women and 23 children, including a 3-year-old girl who was burned to death.
“The Makombo massacre is one of the worst ever committed by the LRA in its bloody 23-year history,” said Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The four-day rampage demonstrates that the LRA remains a serious threat to civilians and is not a spent force, as the Ugandan and Congolese governments claim.”
Horrific as they are such attacks by the LRA are nothing new. Kony, a Christian mystic from northern Uganda launched his rebellion in 1987. He wanted to force out Yoweri Museveni — himself a rebel leader who took power in 1986 and still leads Uganda 24 years later — and rule
the country according to the Ten Commandments.