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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 June, 2003, 10:16 GMT 11:16 UK
Church fears Uganda rebel threat
Children in Gulu church
Children, even sheltered in churches, are at risk from the rebels
Catholic church priests fear they are the new targets of rebels in a brutal insurgency in northern Uganda.

The Lords Resistance Army (LRA) has become well known for abducting children to use as soldiers and sex slaves during its brutal 17-year insurgency against the government.

But, after attempts by church leaders to mediate a ceasefire between the rebels and the government, LRA leader Joseph Kony is reported to have ordered Catholic missions to be destroyed, priests and missionaries killed and nuns beaten up.

Army spokesman Major Shaban Bantariza told reporters they were aware of the threat. "This is not the first time, and we warned the church about it."

Church fears

Archbishop of Gulu John Baptist Odama told the BBC's Network Africa he was taking the warnings very seriously, but could not understand why the LRA were now targeting them.

Catholic missions must be destroyed, priests and missionaries killed in cold blood and nuns beaten black and blue
LRA order

"Up till now, Kony has been talking to us and telling us he is fighting the government of Uganda."

"I would be very happy if he talked to me and said: Archbishop the reason I am targeting the people you are leading is this..."

Churches provide much of the health care and education facilities in the north - and thousands of civilians seek protection in church compounds.

Archbishop Odama said he was "very much surprised" that the war, which had always been a political one, was now taking a religious turn.

He added that if the army could not halt the attacks then international help was needed.

"The people of the north have suffered too long and they need security," he said.


One missionary leader Father Carlos Rodriguez told reporters "We have no reason to doubt the message was authentic... In the last five weeks LRA has burned, bombed and desecrated churches on nine occasions."

According to the Italian-based Missionary Service News Agency (Misna) the order given to the LRA rebels by their leader was: "Catholic missions must be destroyed, priests and missionaries killed in cold blood and nuns beaten black and blue."

Father Rodriguez said he believed the attacks were being ordered because some junior LRA commanders had deserted after peace meetings with church officials.

"We live among the people and we are taking as many precautions as we can, but how safe are we if the LRA is killing children?" he said.

Father Gerner in Kirgum told Misna: "Kony's words are deeply scaring."

Last year, the Ugandan army was given permission to enter Sudan to wipe out the LRA's rear bases there.

But since then the attacks have intensified.

Major Bantariza said the LRA was targeting villages across northern Uganda, making it impossible for the army to stop them.

"The problem is a terrorist problem," he said.

"As we know, no-one in the world has the capacity to deal with a terrorist problem decisively and very quickly because you do not know which will be the next target.

Archbishop Odama on Network Africa
"I am very much surprised"

Major Shaban Bantariza on Focus on Africa
"This is a terrorist problem"

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06 Jun 03  |  Africa

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