Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Situation worsens as LRA rampages

As feared, the situation in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has worsened now two weeks after the Dec. 14 air strike against the rebel Lord's Resistance Army camps in and around the Garamba National Park.

Aid agencies report that tens of thousands of people continue to flee the rampaging Ugandan rebels in the wake of more than 400 deaths, about half of which were in the town of Doruma, not far from the South Sudan border.

The Catholic relief agency Caritas has reported that some 20,000 people had fled to the mountains from the rebels, whose controversial spokesmen continue to deny carrying out the attacks.

Yet, an eyewitness told the BBC that five people in Faradje had their lips cut off by Lord's Resistance Army fighters as a warning not to speak ill of the rebels.

Bruno Mitewo, head of the Catholic aid agency, said the agency has information that from parishes in the region that more than 400 civilians have died in the attacks.

He said that in Faradje 150 civilians had died, almost 75 people in Duru and 215 in Doruma. The victims had been hacked to death and forced into fires, he said.

"All villages were burned by rebels... we don't know where exactly the population is because all the villages are empty," he told the BBC.

"We have almost 6,500 displaced who are refugees in the parishes of the Catholic Church around the city of Dungu, more than 20,000 people displaced are running to the mountains," he said.

Those who were hiding in the bush and forest were mainly the young, as the LRA tends to kidnap children and recruit them as fighters, he said.

An eyewitness in Faradje said the people who had their lips cut off were being treated for their injuries.

“The entire population of Faradje [80km from the Sudanese border], some 30,000 people, has left. Most have taken refuge in Tadu and Kpodo,” said Ivo Brandau, head of information for the UN's OCHA. The villages are 37km and 11km from Faradje.

As has been widely reported, forces from the DRC, Uganda and Southern Sudan are in the midst of a joint military operation against the LRA after the LRA's leader, Joseph Kony, failed to sign a peace agreement with Uganda in early December.

OCHA officials said people from Kiliwa and Paika, two villages north of the regional capital of Dungu, had also fled.

“It’s not yet known exactly how many. Another group of around 180 households is said to be in Duru (about 50 kms north of Dungu). This area is considered to be at risk because of the presence of the LRA,” said Brandau. “Villages and local officials are still looking for bodies.”

Several prominent Faradje citizens were killed in the attacks, including a senior doctor, two pastors, a school inspector, a pharmacist, and the deputy head of the Directorate General of Migration.

According to OCHA, the LRA occupies seven villages around Doruma: Batande, Manzagala, Mabando, Bagbugu, Nakatilikpa, Nagengwa and Natulugbu.

Military officials said that following the air strike on LRA positions in Garamba National Park, the rebels fled north towards Sudan and south into the DRC.

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