Page last updated at 09:51 GMT, Monday, 29 March 2010 10:51 UK

LRA rebels deny DR Congo massacre

Soldier in Tapili
Tapili is being patrolled by soldiers following the massacre

LRA rebel fighters did not carry out a massacre in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a spokesman has said.

Justin Labeja told the BBC it was a "baseless accusation".

The BBC uncovered evidence that 321 people were killed over several days last December, with local people and Human Rights Watch blaming the LRA.

A Ugandan army spokesman has also cast doubt on the figures, saying that the population in the area is so spread out it is unlikely so many people died.

Lt Col Felix Kulayigye told the Monitor newspaper that Ugandan intelligence indicates the Lord's Resistance Army has less than 200 fighters.

LRA leaders initially claimed to be fighting to install a theocracy in Uganda based on the Biblical Ten Commandments.

But they now roam across Sudan and Central African Republic, as well as DR Congo.

Brutal record

Mr Labeja is an LRA spokesman based in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

"How many LRA are there? And which LRA are we talking about?" he asked on the BBC's Network Africa programme.

Their best weapon is fear and they create fear by their extremely brutal and violent tactics which we saw again in this latest massacre near Tapili
Alan Doss
Head of UN mission in DR Congo

"I don't see the reason why LRA should just go and fight with powerless people in Congo."

But BBC East Africa correspondent Will Ross said few analysts will give much credibility to Mr Labeja's view, which seems completely at odds with the LRA's track record.

The rebel group has a reputation for brutality and has targeted defenceless civilians for more than two decades, he said.

He added there has rarely been any concrete evidence that the Kenya-based LRA spokesmen have had direct communication with the rebel commanders, so their knowledge of events on the ground is therefore limited.

Earlier the head of the UN peacekeeping mission in DR Congo said a new strategy was needed to prevent further LRA massacres.

He said greater air mobility and better intelligence gathering was needed.

The UN has its largest peacekeeping mission in DR Congo but its focus is on a different rebellion and so only few numbers of its troops are based in areas where the LRA operates.

Jacques Akoba, Red Cross volunteer
Jacques Akoba says he buried bodies after the massacre

Mr Doss said the LRA operated in small, highly mobile groups over a wide area, making the UN's job difficult.

"It didn't just happen in one place because... the LRA moves around a lot and these are small units, but of course they can inflict terrible damage.

"But even small groups, moving as they do in the bush, can create havoc. Their best weapon is fear and they create fear by their extremely brutal and violent tactics which we saw again in this latest massacre near Tapili."

In the latest attack, rebels hacked to death villagers and made others carry looted goods. Some 250 people were abducted.

The UN said it had heard rumours an attack was to be launched around Christmas, and reinforced its troops in the area.

But they were deployed to towns such as Dungu and Niangara rather than the remote villages where the killings took place.

On 13 December, a contingent of LRA rebels crossed the Uele river and arrived at a market in the village of Mabanga Ya Talo.

The acts were repeated in villages all the way to Tapili, about 45km (30 miles) away.

Human Rights Watch, working with local organisations, has verified 321 deaths - but other activists have given far higher estimates.

Witnesses say the stench of death hung over the area for weeks.


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