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Last Updated:  Friday, 28 February, 2003, 00:23 GMT
Ugandan rebels kidnap children
By Will Ross
BBC correspondent in Kampala

Rebels of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda have been attempting to boost their forces by raiding schools.

Children in both Gulu and Kitgum towns have been targets of abductions and residents are again complaining that the Ugandan army is not protecting the population.

Ugandan soldiers in Kitgum
Kitgum residents say the army is failing to protect them
The army, however, says the rebels are dwindling in numbers because of the ongoing military operation.

In the most recent attack, a group of LRA rebels targeted Oxford College secondary school in the northern town of Kitgum in the early hours of the morning.

They abducted 12 teenagers, two of whom later managed to escape.

Laz Ochira, the director of the school, described the attack as symbolic as it showed there was not enough security provided for the population.

The rebels also seized five other secondary school pupils from their lodgings.

Armed and in uniform

The students had only recently moved to Kitgum after having been displaced from their home areas.

Reports said there were about 10 kidnappers who were armed and in uniform.

The kidnap victims were marched away from the town and some reports said the rebels grabbed more people on their way
They also entered Corner Mission from where they abducted another two civilians.

The kidnap victims were then marched away from the town and some reports said the rebels grabbed more people on their way.

Kitgum residents said the rebels were in the town for four hours from about 0100 but the Ugandan army did not respond with any firepower.

Daylight attack

The town of Gulu suffered a more audacious raid when another LRA group walked into a suburban primary school at the beginning of classes and picked out their victims.

The army is failing to prevent further abductions of young students who will now be turned from students into ruthless killers
Lieutenant-Colonel Walter Ochora, the chairman of Gulu district, said 21 pupils were taken from Abuga school in the Lacor suburb.

He said nine managed to escape but the other 12 were still missing.

The army reported that eight children were missing but that the kidnappers were being pursued.

These two incidents of abduction once again call into question the Ugandan army's ability to defend the population.

And the fact that the rebels were able to walk into a primary school in broad daylight has shocked residents of Gulu town.

Army claims

Colonel Ochora told the BBC it was not possible for soldiers to be deployed at all institutions.

But he added that nearly 1,000 people have been recruited and were being trained as local defence unit personnel.

They will soon be posted across Gulu district at institutions like primary schools in order to prevent such attacks, he said.

Separately, a spokesman for the Ugandan army's 4th division, Lieutenant Paddy Ankunda, said that during the past week 106 abductees have been rescued.

Ten rebels were killed and 16 others surrendered, he said.

But even at a time when the army says LRA numbers are diminishing, it is failing to prevent further abductions of young students who will now be turned from students into ruthless killers.

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