Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Uganda: LRA slaughter 500 in DRC

A notorious Ugandan rebel group has killed more than 500 people in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and kidnapped over 400, including several over the past four days, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said today.

“We are increasingly concerned about the humanitarian situation and continuing attacks by the Ugandan rebel group, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), on the civilian population in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) Oriental Province,” UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond told reporters in Geneva.

UNHCR’s team in the regional centre of Dungu said the death toll in the province bordering Uganda and South Sudan is now estimated at 537 people. Another 408 people have been kidnapped by LRA rebels since the outbreak of violence in September last year.

The rebels, who have been fighting Ugandan forces since the 1980s and have since spilled over into Sudan and DRC, are notorious for human rights abuses including the killing and maiming of civilians, and the abduction and recruitment of children as soldiers and sex slaves.

The Governments of DRC, Uganda and Southern Sudan launched a joint military operation in mid-December to flush the LRA out of a remote national park in north-eastern DRC. The fleeing rebels are said to have committed grave human rights violations against civilians in the area.

Mr. Redmond said rough estimates of the number of forcibly displaced in the area have now surpassed 104,000. “Many of these internally displaced people (IDPs) are still hiding in the bush, particularly in areas around the town of Faradje which was heavily hit during the Christmas period.”

Out of an estimated 37,000 people who escaped from Faradje, some 16,000 have been registered so far in Tadu and surrounding villages south of Faradje. More than 10,000 of them are children.

In the Dungu area, which was attacked by the LRA in September last year, the local Red Cross has just completed the registration of displaced in the town and 27 nearby villages. Out of 54,777 IDPs registered there, more than 27,000 are women and nearly 15,000 are children under the age of five.

The latest series of LRA attacks targeted villages and settlements south-west of Faradje. The village of Tomati, 57 kilometres south-west of Faradje was reduced to ashes on Saturday, UNHCR said.

In addition, attacks on Sambia, a mining village some 75 kilometres from Faradje, carried out by the LRA last Friday and again on Sunday left at least seven dead.

“Throughout the region, sightings of LRA rebels are causing panic and new displacement,” stated Mr. Redmond, noting that UNHCR staff in Dungu have reported considerable, ongoing population movements in the direction of Faradje and areas south of Dungu. In addition, 2,000 people have reportedly arrived in Ezo in neighbouring South Sudan.

The agency is extremely concerned about the fate of residents who are now increasingly caught in a conflict zone near the borders of the DRC, the Central African Republic and Sudan.

Safe humanitarian access is a critical issue at the moment in the highly volatile area, but UNHCR is working to provide the displaced with vital supplies such as food, shelter, medicines, clothes and other aid items. “We continue to work with local authorities and other agencies on finding ways of delivering assistance in these insecure and inaccessible areas,” Mr. Redmond said.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in a statement issued by his spokesperson two weeks ago, strongly condemned the “appalling atrocities” reportedly committed by the LRA and demanded that they respect all rules of international humanitarian law.

He also called on the Ugandan, DRC and southern Sudanese forces on the ground to coordinate with the humanitarian community and UN missions in the region to ensure the effective delivery of aid to those affected by the attacks.

Source: UN News Centre
Published by Mike Hitchen, Mike Hitchen Consulting
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