The United Nations is investigating reports that Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army rebels killed 100 people in February, the latest in a string of massacres in Congo’s remote northeast.
UN aid Chief John Holmes spoke of the reported Kpanga massacre while visiting the region, where the Ugandan rebels have forced 300 000 people from their homes and, since December last year alone, killed 400 people and kidnapped 400 more.
The violence comes amid fears that President Joseph Kabila’s desire to see UN peacekeepers start withdrawing in June, in time for the 50th anniversary of Congo’s independence, and leave by elections next year, will worsen the security situation as the country’s army will be unable to fill the gap.
“We’ve seen again massacres, rapes, acts of unimaginable brutality, which are continuing,” Holmes said on Saturday while visiting Nyangara, the main town affected by LRA attacks in Congo’s Orientale province.
Human Rights Watch said last month the LRA had killed 321 people in a previously unreported December massacre in the area. Congo’s government initially denied the massacre took place, however, a local government official has since confirmed the killings but put the toll lower, at 188.
“We heard today that there was a very bad massacre in the area where we were in December; and another massacre recently in February with perhaps another 100 people again,” Holmes said.
The UN is investigating the latest killings, he added.
In Nyangara, Holmes visited a 23 year-old woman who was being treated by doctors after her lips and ears were ripped off in a trademark attack by rebels seeking to silence its victims.
Leontine Masini, another resident, spoke of a six-month ordeal that ended when she escaped as the fighters were asleep.
“They take wooden sticks and ask those who have been captured to hit someone with that stick on the head. If you don’t kill that person, you are being hit too,” she said.
The 25 year-old said she had witnessed so many murders that “there is no way” to put a number on it. “I did hit people. I didn’t kill them, so I got hit, too,” she added.
“Unacceptable human costs”
A December 2008 US-backed military operation by the armies of Uganda, Congo and Sudan was meant to end the LRA’s two decade-long rebellion, which had been based in Congo since 2005, when the group was forced out of northern Uganda.
The rebel leaders and most fighters escaped the attack and the group has splintered, carrying out massacres as it melted into the bush, leading to accusations that the UN and regional armies have failed to protect civilians in the aftermath.
Holmes acknowledged some “military successes” but said the scattering of LRA fighters has made them more dangerous. “They have retained their capacity to commit those massacres.”
Others have been more scathing in their criticism.
“What was supposed to be a sudden, decisive strike has become a slow and very expensive campaign of attrition across three countries,” International Crisis Group think tank said of the hunt for LRA in Congo, Sudan and Central African Republic.
“It has also yielded unacceptably high human costs among local civilians, with virtually no accountability for the failure to protect,” ICG said in a report issued last week.
“Only by pooling intelligence and coordinating activities across the entire affected region can the Ugandan army, its national partners, the UN and civilians hope to rid themselves of the LRA,” ICG concluded.
Pic: LRA rebels