Investigations by leaders in northern Uganda’s Lira District have found that the death toll in the February 21 rebel attack on the Barlonyo camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) exceeded 300 people, relief workers said.
“After consultations with district officials in Lira, we have found that the death toll was much higher than initially thought,” Rebecca Symington, the United Nations Children’s Fund protection officer for northern Uganda, said on Tuesday.
“In addition to 237 people who were killed in the camp, local officials have counted another 100 killed outside the camp.”
Andrew John Timpson, the head of the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs sub-office in Gulu, told IRIN that “if these figures are correct, then this was a staggering attack, worse than any other attack in the history of the war”.
In a devastating massacre of civilians in the 18-year conflict in northern Uganda, Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels, dressed like regular army soldiers and armed with assault rifles and artillery, attacked the Barlonyo camp, 26 km north of Lira town, and overpowered local militia posted there to protect it.
The rebels burned many IDPs alive by setting fire to their thatched huts after ordering them into their homes at gunpoint. Other IDPs, who were trying to flee, were shot, bludgeoned or hacked to death by the rebels wielding clubs, machetes and AK-47s.
Local leaders said they had counted at last 192 bodies at the scene. But President Yoweri Museveni said only 84 people had been killed.
Timpson, however, said not all those killed may have been IDPs. Local leaders in Lira, he added, had told aid workers that the bodies found outside the camp could not be identified and could have been of people abducted earlier from other areas of northern Uganda.
The cult-like LRA, led by a reclusive mystic, Joseph Kony, say they want to topple the government, which is dominated by southerners, and restore power to the northern people. Yet most of the group’s atrocities are committed against defenceless civilians, usually fellow Acholis.
The war has displaced more than 1.4 million people in northern and eastern Uganda, 300 000 of them in nine camps in Lira town alone. Barlonyo camp was home to 4800 people. Ugandan authorities now want to concentrate the camps into larger units, saying this will offer more protection to the IDPs.
Relief workers said the situation in Lira, 380 km north of the capital, Kampala, had gone quiet, but the IDPs were still terrified.
“The humanitarian situation is better than we thought in terms of food and nutrition, but the people are still very scared,” said Jakob Mikolson, the UN World Food Programme coordinator for northern Uganda.