Sunday, March 15, 2009

Ugandan army rescues abductees in north- eastern Democratic Repubic of Congo

The Ugandan army on Monday killed 16 rebels and rescued 19 people abducted by rebels as part of operations in north- eastern Democratic Repubic of Congo, reported a Ugandan government newspaper Wednesday.

The fighting took place in Congo's Garamba national park as part of ongoing operations against the Lord's Resistance Army. The rebels, who have waged a civil war in Uganda for more than 20 years, fled to the DRC in late 2004.

Government forces seized laptops, communication gadgets and documents abandoned by the rebels, according to The New Vision paper.

The LRA is led by an elusive former altar boy who has told his fighters that they will one day unseat the government in Kampala and rule by the teachings of the Bible.

But the rebels have killed and tortured thousands of people and displaced close to 2 million others in the north of the African country. They have abducted thousands of children and forced them to fight and commit atrocities.

The LRA refused to sign a final peace treaty in 2008, after nearly three years of peace negotiations. The group's leaders insisted that the International Criminal Court (ICC) should first withdraw arrest warrants issued in 2005 against five of its leaders for war crimes.

As a result, Ugandan, Congolese and southern Sudanese forces launched an offensive against LRA forces in the DRC in mid-December. The rebels responded with attacks on civilians in the DRC and in parts of the Central African Republic and Sudan.

Aid agencies and UN bodies estimate that about 1 000 civilians have been massacred by the LRA in the area since the offensive began.

The New Vision quoted military officials as saying that, since Operation Lighting Thunder was launched against the LRA, 157 rebels, including seven top rebels commanders, have been killed. Additionally, five have been captured and 300 people, mainly DRC nationals, rescued from the rebels.