Ugandan army says rebels kill 45 people in Congo church
KAMPALA (AFP) — The Ugandan army on Sunday accused Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels of hacking to death 45 people in a church in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
An aid official speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity confirmed Friday’s massacre, saying the killings took place in a Catholic church in the Doruma area, around 40 kilometres (25 miles) from the Sudanese border.
“They were cut with pangas (machetes) and hit with clubs but some luckily managed to escape. Our forces came to know about the killings while pursuing the LRA yesterday (Saturday) and the pursuit is on for the killers.”
Forces from Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo and south Sudan launched a joint operation against the Ugandan LRA rebels in northeastern DR Congo earlier this month.
Magezi had also accused the rebels of killing 35 civilians in attacks on Wednesday and Thursday in areas in south Sudan and northeastern DR Congo.
But LRA spokesman David Nyekorach Matsanga denied the rebels were behind any of the killings.
“Reports about the LRA killing innocent civilians is another propaganda campaign by the Uganda army,” Matsanga told AFP.
The two sides have been engaged in peace talks led by the government of South Sudan for more than two years.
On Saturday Matsanga said the LRA chief Joseph Kony was still open to talks but preferred Tanzanian or South African mediation because south Sudan was involved in the military offensive.
Kony has repeatedly refused to sign a peace deal with Kampala because of International Criminal Court arrest warrants against him and his lieutenants for war crimes.
But Magezi insisted the killings of civilians will not deter the joint forces from hunting the rebels. He also condemned “these heinous acts by the LRA terrorists.”
“They (LRA) think by killing innocent civilians the allied forces will be intimidated to back off from the operation. They are misleading themselves,” said Magezi, who is also the spokesman of the regional forces.
“We will continue to pursue them and they will pay with their blood.”
Uganda rebels accused of massacre at church
A European aid worker said more than 100 people are reported to have been killed in the attack the day after Christmas and that the Congolese military put the number dead at 120 to 150.
The accused Ugandan rebel group, which has waged one of Africa’s longest and most brutal wars, denied responsibility. Spokesman David Matsanga said the Lord’s Resistance Army had no fighters in the area and he accused Uganda’s army of the killings.
But witness Abel Longi said he recognized the rebels by their dreadlocked hair, their Acholi language and the number of young boys among them.
“I hid in bush near the church and heard people wailing as they were being cut with machetes,” Longi told The Associated Press in a telephone call from the village of Doruma, site of the church, where he owns a shop.
Ugandan military spokesman Capt. Chris Magezi said survivors and witnesses described a massacre at the church near Congo’s border with Sudan, where the three nations’ armies this month began an offensive to root out the Ugandan rebels, who have been fighting for about 20 years. Aid and rights groups have accused the rebels of cutting off the lips of civilians and forcing thousands of children to serve as soldiers or sex slaves.
“The scene at the church was unbelievable. It was horrendous. On the floor were dead bodies of mostly women and children cut in pieces,” Magezi said.
Witnesses said rebels used machetes, clubs and swords, he said.
Magezi said 45 civilians were killed. The European aid worker, who spoke on condition of anonymity because his organization fears reprisals, said a woman who escaped from the church told them there were about 30 killed but that Congolese military forces said as many as 150 people were killed.
U.N.-run Radio Okapi quoted the governor of Congo’s Oriental Province, Medard Autsai Senga, as saying the death toll had surpassed 75 and bodies still were being discovered around the church.
Long-running peace talks between the Lord’s Resistance Army and the Ugandan government have stalled. Rebel leaders seek guarantees they will not be arrested under international warrants. The rebels’ elusive leader, Joseph Kony, and other top members are wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague for war crimes and crimes against humanity.