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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 June, 2003, 16:43 GMT 17:43 UK
Schoolgirls taken by Ugandan rebels
Children in Gulu church
Rebels turn the children into fighters and wives
A mass abduction has taken place at a girls' school in north-eastern Uganda, blamed on the rebel Lord's Resistance Army.

Parents and the Roman Catholic authorities who run the school say they fear the number of girls taken could be up to 100.

An army spokesman said helicopters were being used in a search and rescue operation which had so far yielded no results.

The abduction comes amid an intensified campaign by the LRA which has been waging a 17-year-long campaign in northern Uganda.

The latest raid, on the Rwara Girls Secondary School, 50 kilometres from the town of Soroti, happened overnight.

It followed reports of heavy gunfire in Soroti, which the army said was an LRA attack.

A bus was ambushed outside the town at about the same time, and several civilians were reported to have been killed in both incidents.

Some businesses in Soroti have closed following the latest increase in violence and many people have left the region for safety.

Across the country, in north-western Uganda, religious leaders in Gulu spent the night out in the open.

They were hoping to focus attention on the thousands of children, who leave their homes every evening for fear of abduction by rebels.

The United Nations says that in the last year over 5,000 children have been abducted by the rebels.

The religious leaders have now appealed to the UN Security Council to address the issue of conflict in northern Uganda.

And the Archbishop of Gulu called for the rights of the children of northern Uganda to be protected.

No political agenda

Archbishop John Baptist Odama described conditions for the children as "pathetic" and appealed for a peaceful end to the conflict.

Fearing abduction by the Lord's Resistance Army rebels, thousands of children walk into the urban centres of northern Uganda every night.

They sleep on shop verandas and in any available open space, often with no shelter or blankets.

The conflict with the LRA is believed to have displaced 800,000 civilians across northern Uganda.

The rebels have no clear political agenda but have said they want the country governed in accordance with the Christian 10 Commandments.

The BBC's Christine Otieno on Network Africa
"The whole idea is to give them a voice."

Fr Athanathius Mubiru, Radio Veritas director
"People were expressing their anger."

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