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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 June, 2003, 14:38 GMT 15:38 UK
Girls escape Ugandan rebels
Children in Gulu church
Rebels turn the children into fighters and wives
At least 13 girls who went missing following a rebel raid on their secondary school in Uganda have escaped from their captors.

The fleeing girls ran through the bush and travelled across a lake in dugout canoes to evade the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) fighters.

It was initially feared that up to 100 girls had been abducted by the LRA near the eastern town of Soroti on Monday night.

But the BBC's Nathan Etengu in Soroti says that only 29 were ever kidnapped.

The United Nations says the rebel LRA has kidnapped more than 5,000 children in the past year alone, using them as soldiers, labourers and sex slaves.

There is no force that can protect every school, every village, every home
Shaban Bantariza,
Ugandan army spokesman

One 17-year-old student at Lwala Girls' School who witnessed the rebel attack but managed to flee described how a group of 20 LRA rebels commanded by a woman rounded up dozens of students and tied them together with rope.

She told our correspondent that one of the students who was struggling to escape had her fingers and toes cut off by the rebels.


Survivors of the attack say some of the rebels were as young as 12.

Ugandan soldiers have intensified the search for the rest of the girls.

Army spokesman Major Shaban Bantariza told the BBC's World Today programme that the raid on the Roman Catholic school near Soroti was a continuation of the rebels' 17-year brutal resistance movement.

He denied that the army had been caught unawares but said attacks such as that on the Lwala Girls Secondary School, 50 kilometres (30 miles) from Soroti could not always be stopped.

"If these terrorists are just sneaking into place to abduct schoolgirls I say definitely... there is no force that can protect every school, every village, every home where you have to deploy forces," he said.

"You would need probably about two million soldiers in Uganda to do that."

Correspondents say the LRA is intensifying its campaign against the government in northern Uganda.

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 Ten Commandments.

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