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Saturday, 11 May, 2002, 19:45 GMT 20:45 UK
Uganda rebels 'massacre' villagers
Ugandan soldiers in Sudan
The Ugandan army is attacking rebels' bases in Sudan
Ugandan rebels from the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) have killed several hundred Sudanese civilians in the past week, Ugandan army and Sudan Catholic Church officials have said.

Army spokesman, Major Shaban Bantariza said the killings occurred in several villages in the Imotong mountains of southern Sudan while the rebels were fleeing from a Ugandan army offensive which began last month.

The men and boys were all brutally killed publicly whereas young girls between the ages of five and 16 were defiled before their parents

Leon Buga, Catholic Priest
Officials from the Roman Catholic Church in Sudan said the LRA rebels had killed more than 470 civilians and displaced hundreds from their homes.

The LRA insurgents raped and abducted girls and women, and burnt down six villages, a statement from the church's diocese of Torit in southern Sudan said.

Another 500 people were forced to flee the area to escape the violence.

Appeal for help

The bishop of Torit diocese, Akio Johnson Mutek, has appealed to the international community "to come to the aid of these destitute people who are forced to desert their villages as they had just begun cultivating their crops," the statement said.

"Bishop Akio fears that if the situation continues unabated many civil populations who are currently scattered in the bushes might become vulnerable to all kind of dangers and diseases," the statement added.

In a separate statement on Friday, the Church said that LRA rebels had raided a further three villages in the area on Wednesday.

The rebels are reported to have killed an unknown number of men in the villages - as well as stripping girls naked and forcing them to drink their own urine before raping and abducting them.

Starving force

"The men and boys were all brutally killed publicly whereas young girls between the ages of five and 16 were defiled before their parents," the statement quoted a local priest, Leon Buga, as saying.

The BBC's Ishbel Matheson says that the area where the violence occurred is very remote and it is difficult to get accurate information.

Ugandan children
The LRA have kidnapped hundreds of children

Our correspondent says that some people believe the LRA carried out the attacks because they think that the local people support the Ugandan military offensive.

But she says the 3,000 or so rebels that make up the LRA are starving and they rely on raiding and looting to survive.

The rebel force is largely made up of children from Northern Uganda who have been abducted and brainwashed.

They are led by Joseph Kony - a fanatic who claims to have magical powers.

Fears for children

Uganda and Sudan signed an agreement in March allowing Ugandan troops to carry out search-and-destroy operations against the LRA rebels, who launch cross-border raids from rear bases in southern Sudan.

But human rights groups have criticised Uganda saying that Operation Iron Fist, as the campaign to crush the rebels is called, is too heavy handed.

Operation Iron Fist troops in northern Uganda
The troops have been accused of being too heavy handed

It is feared that if it comes to a shootout in the remote mountains many innocent children will be killed alongside Joseph Kony.

The Ugandan army says casualties are inevitable but from their point of view once a child has been abducted, been given military training, and is pointing a gun at you, it becomes a legitimate target.

Major Bantariza of Uganda army tells Focus on Africa
"They shoot them point blank"
See also:

10 May 02 | Africa
Tracking down Uganda's rebels
15 Mar 02 | Africa
Sudan lets Uganda go after rebels
07 Mar 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Uganda
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