/ 18 December 2009

Uganda rebels ‘threaten Christmas attack in DRC’

A lawmaker from the north-eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on Friday expressed fears of an attack by Ugandan rebels at Christmas, as in 2008 when more than 400 people were killed.

The rebels of the ”LRA [Lord’s Resistance Army] have recently sent messages to the people of Niangara saying that they plan to ‘celebrate’ Christmas with them. I’m very worried because their passing means killings, rapes, the burning of houses and the invasion of the fields,” Jeanne Abakuka, provincial lawmaker from Niangara in Orientale province, told Agence France-Presse.

According to a report by the New York-based Human Rights Watch published in February 2009, more than 865 civilians were killed in the Niangara region and at least 160 children were kidnapped by the LRA in the Niangara between last December 24 and January 17.

At least 400 people were killed on Christmas Day and the following day, according to another NGO, Caritas.

Abakuba said the rebels were currently about 30km from Niangara. On Tuesday they killed a fisherman, a former local leader and a policeman, she added. They ”are everywhere in the bush. The population, in distress, has already begun to flee.”

The UN mission in the DRC ”takes [LRA threats] seriously” and plans to step up its joint patrols with the Congolese army [FARDC] in the region, a UN peacekeeping spokesperson said.

Led by Joseph Kony, the LRA has acquired a reputation for being one of the most brutal guerrilla movements in the world since it took up arms in northern Uganda in 1988. From 2005, LRA fighters began to leave their bases in Uganda under pressure from the Ugandan army to relocate in north-eastern DRC and also in the Central African Republic and South Sudan.

Kinshasa’s army, with Ugandan special forces, have since April undertaken a campaign against the rebels, following another between the end of 2008 and last March jointly mounted with the Ugandan and South Sudanese armies.

The number of LRA fighters in the DRC is estimated at fewer than 100, compared with 500 at the beginning of 2009. — Sapa-AFP