Uganda, rebels trade blame for massacre
Scores reported killed at church in Congo village
KAMPALA, Uganda - Attackers hacked to death scores of people who sought refuge at a Catholic church in remote eastern Congo the day after Christmas, officials and witnesses said yesterday, and the Ugandan army and a rebel group accused each other of carrying out the massacre.
Survivors and witnesses said the killings occurred close to Congo's border with Sudan, near where the armies of those two countries and Uganda recently began an offensive to root out the rebel Lord's Resistance Army, according to Ugandan Army Captain Chris Magezi.
A United Nations spokesman, Ivo Brandau, said 120 homes were set ablaze in the area and that thousands of people have fled for fear of further attacks.
The Lord's Resistance Army has waged one of Africa's longest and most brutal wars for the last two decades. Aid and rights groups have accused the rebels of cutting off the lips of civilians and forcing thousands of children to serve as soldiers or sex slaves. The conflict has spilled out of northern Uganda and into Sudan and Congo.
"The scene at the church was unbelievable. It was horrendous. On the floor were dead bodies of mostly women and children cut in pieces," Magezi said. He blamed the Lord's Resistance Army for the massacre and quoted witnesses as saying the rebels used machetes, clubs and swords in Friday's attack.
The rebels denied responsibility, with spokesman David Matsanga saying none of their fighters were in the area and accusing Uganda's army of the killings.
But witness Abel Longi said he recognized the rebels by their dreadlocked hair, their Acholi language and the number of young boys among them. "I hid in bush near the church and heard people wailing as they were being cut with machetes," Longi said in a telephone call from Doruma, the church's village and where he owns a shop.
Death toll estimates varied, in part because the area is so remote. A European aid worker, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, cited reports of more than 100 people killed, and the Congolese military put the number dead at 120 to 150. Magezi said 45 civilians were killed.
UN-run Radio Okapi quoted the governor of Congo's Oriental Province, Medard Autsai Senga, as saying the death toll had surpassed 75 and that bodies still were being discovered. He appealed for aid for survivors.
The UN said the rebels killed 189 people in three villages over two days, 89 of them at Doruma, said spokesman Brandau.
The rebels may have been retaliating against civilians for military attacks, including a Dec. 14 air bombing on their main camp in Garamba National Park.
Rebel spokesman Matsanga, interviewed by telephone from Nairobi, blamed Uganda's 105th Battalion for the massacre. "They were airlifted to Congo to kill civilians and then say we are responsible," he charged. "They want to justify their stay" in Congo, "and loot minerals from there like they did before."
Long-running peace talks between the Lord's Resistance Army and the Ugandan government have stalled. The group's leader, Joseph Kony, and other top members are wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and they have sought guarantees they would not be arrested under international warrants.