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Monday, 16 September, 2002, 09:10 GMT 10:10 UK
Uganda raiders release priests
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni
Uganda accuses the rebels of breaking a truce
Rebels of the Lord's Resistance Army have released two Italian priests who were abducted during an attack on a Roman Catholic mission in the north of the country on Saturday.

According to a local leader in the area, 45 Ugandan civilians were abducted along with the priests. 10 of these civilians have now been released.

According to the Ugandan army, two rebels were killed when a group of at least 100 attacked the mission near the town of Gulu.

This latest attack is the second this weekend. The rebels have been fighting the government for the past 16 years.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni recently named a government delegation to hold talks with the LRA, but the rebels have yet to name their own delegation.

Long walk

The Italian ambassador in Uganda, Mauricio Teucci, named the clergymen as Ponsiano Velluto, 71, and Alex Pizzi, 63.

The two elderly priests were kidnapped during a raid on the Opiti mission in Omoro county, about 40 km (25 miles) south-east of the regional capital Gulu.

Lord's Resistance Army
Seeking to overthrow government since 1987 but officially on ceasefire since August
Says it wants to rule Uganda under the Biblical 10 Commandments
Leader Joseph Kony keeps numerous "wives", many of them abducted girls kept as sex slaves
The group is notorious for abducting children to swell its own ranks, said to be about 4,000-strong

They struck at 0600 (0300 GMT), ransacking the mission and nearby settlements before leaving with the priests and a number of other people including five girls.

Uganda's army said two rebels were shot dead by soldiers before the rest escaped.

Archbishop John Baptist Odama told the AFP news agency that the priests arrived back at their parish at 1600 (1300 GMT) after walking 12 kilometres (seven miles).

He said they had a message for him from the rebels.

The captives were reportedly used by the kidnappers to carry away looted telecommunications equipment and food.

'New target'

According to a Ugandan army spokesman, Major Shaban Bantariza, the raiders clashed with a smaller group of soldiers.

Major Shaban Bantariza
The army says it killed two of the raiders
"The rebels outnumbered our forces which were forced to retreat after a brief fight," he said.

Officials in northern Uganda quoted by Reuters news agency said they believed it was the first time in recent years the LRA had kidnapped priests.

Our correspondent notes that religious leaders have been meeting both the rebels and President Museveni in recent weeks to try and move the peace process forward.

The army has since then accused the LRA of mounting violations, including the abduction of 78 people on 7 September.


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14 Sep 02 | Africa
29 Aug 02 | Africa
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