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New LRA rebel attacks claim 26 lives, officials say

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-03-30

A new wave of attacks by Ugandan Lord's Resistance Army rebels killed 26 people in Central African Republic from March 21 - 28, officials say, amid UN reports of another massacre by the group in the DR Congo in December - claims disputed by Kinshasa.

AFP - New attacks by the Ugandan Lord's Resistance Army in Central Africa have killed 26 fighters and civilians, including a woman burnt alive, and at least 40 people were abducted, officials said Tuesday.

The attacks were revealed after Human Rights Watch claimed Sunday the rebel group massacred 321 people in December in a previously unreported incident in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.

The DR Congo's Justice Minister Lessa Bambi Luzolo disputed the charge on Tuesday saying that civilian victims totalled "no more than 25".

In Central Africa the fighters stormed three villages near the southeastern border with the DR Congo between March 21 and 28, Central African officials said on condition of anonymity.

They struck the village of Agoumar on March 21, a military source told AFP from the southeastern border city of Bangassou.

"The attack on Agoumar lead to the deaths of 11 people -- 10 civilians including a woman who was burnt alive by the rebels, and an element from the LRA who was killed by the villagers who organised to defend themselves," he said.

In the village of Dembia, attacked on March 28, "LRA elements were chased by the Ugandan army, which killed at least 15 rebels," the source added.

Karmadar village was attacked on March 25 but did not suffer any casualties.

In each case the rebels used "the same process of going door to door, taking hostages from the population, and taking away items of value, as well as provisions," he said.

More than 40 people were abducted from the three villages, said another official in Bangassou, where about 400 people had taken refuge from the fighting.

Residents of the city demonstrated Tuesday to demand the authorities force out the Ugandan rebels, who have been operating in the Central Africa since June 2009.

They alleged the Ugandan army was working with the LRA because the rebels attacked villages soon after Ugandan soldiers had been to them.

A senior Central African military official dismissed the allegations, telling AFP on condition of anonymity that "without the presence of our (Ugandan) brothers who are helping us, the damage would be even more serious."

The officer said President Francois Bozize had on March 7 ordered a battalion of soldiers be sent to the area but "only 15 men, under-equipped, could be deployed. And that annoys the people."

The LRA took up arms in 1988 in northern Uganda and has acquired a reputation for brutality with its leaders wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes.

Since 2005, under pressure from the Ugandan army, the fighters pulled back from their bases in Uganda to move into the remote northeast of the DRC, where they were said to number fewer than 100 late last year, according to the UN mission in the country.

In its report released on Sunday, Human Rights Watch said LRA rebels killed at least 321 civilians in a four-day "rampage" on villages in the DR Congo on December 14-17.

The dead included at least 13 women and 23 children, the youngest a three-year-old girl who was burned to death, according to the report written after a mission visited the region in February.

The attacks showed the "LRA remains a serious threat to civilians and is not a spent force, as the Ugandan and Congolese governments claim," it warned.

But Luzolo, the DR Congo justice minister, said the HRW claim was "clearly exaggerated".

"When it comes to victims in the civilian population, the number of victims is no more than 25," he said in a statement in Kinshasa.

Date created : 2010-03-30