GULU: Ugandan rebels attacked a group of women collecting firewood in a remote village near the Sudanese border, hacking off their lips, ears and breasts, a government official said yesterday.
Fighters from the Lord’s Resistance army (LRA) have stepped up attacks on civilians and troops after the most significant peace talks for a decade stalled late last year.
“In Kitgum district yesterday the rebels caught seven women and cut off their breasts and lips,” said Colonel Walter Ochora, chairman of Gulu district, epicentre of the 19-year conflict.
The total number of injuries was not immediately clear, with one newspaper saying only three women had been mutilated, but several others abducted, in the attack in Agoro sub-county, about 20km north of Kitgum town.
The state-owned New Vision newspaper said one of the youngest rebels, aged about 16, cut off the victims’ lips.
The rebels, who roam the forests and savannah of the north, are difficult to contact for comment.
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Leaders in northern Uganda say the cult-like LRA has conducted hundreds of similar attacks during its campaign, saying the rebels conduct the mutilations to terrorise the population.
Ochora, the top government official in Gulu, warned of the threat of more attacks, saying LRA deputy commander Vincent Otti had crossed into Uganda from hideouts in southern Sudan on Sunday with 300 fighters.
“They are well-armed. Over the next two weeks you will see what they are going to do, the atrocities they will commit. The rebels want to make a point through a soft target, through the population,” he said.
Ochora was welcoming Tony Hall, United States ambassador to the United Nations agencies in Rome, who was on a one-day trip to assess the humanitarian situation in a region where 1.6 million people have been forced from their homes.
He announced an extra $US27 million ($NZ36.5 million) in US support for the UN World Food Programme operations in northern Uganda.
Ochora said Uganda’s army had been lax in not stopping the rebels moving large distances on foot before they attacked civilians. Dozens of people were kidnapped by the LRA last week, according to local officials. The army disputes the figures.