At least 321 people were killed and hundreds were abducted in one of the worst massacres by Africa’s most feared rebel group, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), in the Democratic Republic of Congo in December.
A three-year-old girl was burnt to death during the attack on men, women and children, an investigation by a human rights group has revealed.
Villagers who escaped death were sent back with their lips and ears cut off as a warning to others of what would happen if they talked — a tactic used frequently by the LRA, which has terrorised much of northern Uganda and the border areas with Sudan and Congo for more than two decades.
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The attack — which was unreported until now — confirms that the LRA has restarted terrorising the region despite losing its bases in Sudan a few years ago, when Khartoum, its main backer, signed a peace deal with south Sudanese rebels. According to Human Rights Watch the LRA also abducted at least 250 people during the attack, including 80 children.
Anneke Van Woudenberg, of the New York-based rights group, called the massacre in the Makombo area of northeast Democratic Republic of Congo “one of the worst ever committed by the LRA in its bloody 23-year history”.
According to the report, written after a mission visited the region in February: The vast majority of those killed were adult men, whom LRA combatants first tied up and then hacked to death with machetes or crushed their skulls with axes and heavy wooden sticks.
“The dead include at least 13 women and 23 children, the youngest a three-year-old girl who was burned to death. LRA combatants tied some of the victims to trees before crushing their skulls with axes.”
The LRA also killed those they abducted who walked too slowly or tried to escape. Family members and local authorities later found bodies all along the LRA’s 105-kilometer journey through the Makombo area and the small town of Tapili. Witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that for days and weeks after the attack, this vast area was filled with the “stench of death.”
Children and adults who managed to escape provided similar accounts of the group’s extreme brutality. Many of the children captured by the LRA were forced to kill other children who had disobeyed the LRA’s rules. In numerous cases documented by Human Rights Watch, children were ordered to surround the victim in a circle and take turns beating the child on the head with a large wooden stick until the child died.
The Makombo massacre is part of a longstanding history of atrocities and abuse by the LRA in Uganda, southern Sudan, the Central African Republic (CAR), and Congo. Pushed out of northern Uganda in 2005, the LRA now operates in the remote border area between southern Sudan, Congo, and CAR. In July 2005, the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for the senior leaders of the LRA for crimes they committed in northern Uganda, but those indicted remain at large.
While the Makombo massacre is the most deadly documented attack by the LRA since the Christmas massacres of 2008, dozens of attacks against civilians have also been carried out in other areas in recent months – near the towns of Bangadi and Ngilima in Haut Uele district, in Ango territory in Bas Uele district, as well as in the Central African Republic.
In March 11, 2010, the US Senate unanimously passed the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act. If it becomes law, it will require President Barack Obama’s administration to develop a regional strategy to protect civilians in central Africa from attacks by the LRA, to work to apprehend the LRA’s leadership, and to support economic recovery for northern Uganda. The bill is currently before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
“The people of northeastern Congo and other LRA-affected areas have suffered for far too long,” said Van Woudenberg. “The US and other concerned governments should work with the UN and regional parties to develop and carry out a comprehensive strategy to protect civilians and apprehend abusive LRA leaders.”
It should be noted that the U.S. Government — in misguided efforts to protect its soldiers and officials from being charged with war crimes (as should have been done in response to the torture scandals) — long fought the establishment, authority and work of the International Criminal Court.
Trail of Death: LRA Atrocities in Northeastern Congo Human Rights Watch, Mar. 28, 2010 “The 67-page report is the first detailed documentation of the Makombo massacre and other atrocities by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Congo in 2009 and early 2010. The report, based on a Human Rights Watch fact-finding mission to the massacre area in February, documents the brutal killings during the well-planned LRA attack from December 14 to 17 in the remote Makombo area of Haute Uele district.”