A notorious Ugandan rebel group has abducted hundreds of villagers in the Central African Republic (CAR) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and forced them to fight, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said.
According to HRW research released on Thursday, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has seized more than 697 adults and children over the last 18 months in CAR and the Bas Uele district of northern DRC.
About one-third of those abducted were children, who are being forced to serve as soldiers or sex slaves, HRW said.
“The LRA continues its horrific campaign to replenish its ranks by brutally tearing children from their villages and forcing them to fight,” said Anneke van Woudenberg, senior Africa researcher at HRW. “The evidence points to Joseph Kony, the LRA leader, as the author of this atrocious campaign.
About 250 people have been killed by the group — often by the child soldiers — and as many as 74 000 have fled their homes in the same period, according to HRW.
The rebel group, which fled to the jungles of DRC in 2005 after its rebellion in northern Uganda was crushed, is well-known for its tactics of forced recruitment.
Kony and other LRA leaders are subject to International Criminal Court arrest warrants for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Ugandan and Congolese forces failed to eradicate the guerrillas during a military operation that began in December 2008. The group now flits between CAR, DRC and Southern Sudan.
HRW called on Uganda, national governments and the United Nations — which has a large peacekeeping presence in the sprawling DRC — to do more to protect civilians.
The research was carried out over a month, during which time HRW employees interviewed hundreds of civilians, including 90 people who escaped the LRA’s clutches. — Sapa-dpa