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Page last updated at 19:05 GMT, Thursday, 23 October 2008 20:05 UK

Congo terror after LRA rebel raids

Women mourning the loss of a child

By Thomas Fessy
BBC News, Dungu

Pierre Ndifumba, a village chief in north-eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, is slowly recovering after being attacked by rebels from across the border with Uganda.

"They hit me on the neck with a wooden stick several times," he told the BBC.

"As I fell, blood was coming out of my ears, my nose and my eyes. They kept on beating me until I fainted," he added, while showing scars on his neck and on his back.

Pierre Ndifumba
Pierre Ndifumba says he was left for dead
"When they thought that I was dead, they pulled me over 35 metres further and buried me in a hole with leaves to cover my body."

Mr Ndifumba was left unconscious but he eventually managed to escape and reached the town of Dungu four days later.

Tens of thousands of people have fled their homes after the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) fighters raided 16 villages, according to the United Nations peacekeeping mission in DR Congo, known as Monuc.

Some of them walked up to 80km (50 miles) through the bush to reach Dungu, where local people have been sharing their few possessions with them.

'Kidnapped'

"We came over here because the LRA looted and burnt our houses," says Marie Bimisa, who fled from Kiliwa, a village north of Dungu.

They encircled us and forced us to follow them deep in the bush up to the River Dungu
Jean Tahuko, 15
"They killed our local chief and then kidnapped children from school. They killed people with axes and machetes. They burnt down all houses before they left."

According to official sources, about 1,000 LRA fighters are estimated to be operating in the area.

They moved from their original bases in Uganda - where they have fought a 20-year rebellion - and South Sudan to DR Congo in 2005 and have set up camps in the Garamba National Park.

These are the worst attacks since their arrival and come five months after the group backed out of signing a peace agreement because of international arrest warrants against its leaders.

Monuc says at least 52 people were killed while 159 children and 10 adults were abducted.

Most people were killed or captured on 17 September when the LRA simultaneously attacked several villages.

Buried alive

Survivors say they saw many dead bodies on the road and in the bush.

Pierre's daughter Louise, 15, and his three younger sons were kidnapped by the Ugandan rebels and are still in the bush.

If they [the displaced] have humanitarian assistance, they can become a target
UNHCR's Holly Berman
Fifteen-year-old Jean Tahuko was lucky enough to escape after he was captured by rebels in Kiliwa.

Still shocked, he struggles to find words to talk about his experience.

"They came when we were at school," he says.

"They encircled us and forced us to follow them deep in the bush up to the River Dungu.

"We were bound but I had a knife in my pocket. I cut my laces and passed it on to the girl next to me.

"She cut her laces and passed the knife to another one. Then, we started to run."

Jean has been looking for his family since he arrived in Dungu and says he does not know where his parents are.

Tears

In Bamo Kandi, a northern area of Dungu, two displaced women mourn their six-year-old son and grandson.

A Monuc tank
Monuc are providing military support to an army base in Dungu
In tears, they say he died shortly after he fell sick because he had to sleep outside in the heavy rains.

Displaced people have not received any assistance yet.

Aid agencies said they cannot start their operations as insecurity was too high.

"We have to plan it very carefully because trying to bring in assistance in a situation that's very volatile can sometimes in itself cause protection problems for the people," says Holly Berman, senior protection officer at the UN refugee agency.

"If they have humanitarian assistance, they can become a target."

Moreover, questions have been raised on how to access Dungu, an isolated town with an airport where planes with heavy loads are unable to land.

However, now that assessments have been done, aid agencies hope that some humanitarian help will become available soon.

The names in this piece have been changed to protect the identities of those quoted.

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