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UN: Rebel Group's Attacks in Congo, Sudan May Be Punishable War Crimes

UN: Rebel Group's Attacks in Congo, Sudan May Be Punishable War Crimes

UN: Rebel Group's Attacks in Congo, Sudan May Be Punishable War Crimes

The U.N. Human Rights Office says the attacks and systematic, widespread violations carried out by the Lord's Resistance Army in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Southern Sudan may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity. The U.N. agency has just issued two reports on the atrocities committed by the LRA over a 10-month period.

Between September 2008 and June 2009, the U.N. report says the Lord's Resistance Army killed 1,200 people and abducted 1,400 in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Some 600 children and 400 women were among those kidnapped. These terror tactics are blamed for forcing 230,000 terrified villagers to flee their homes.

Last Christmas, the LRA unleashed its most devastating wave of synchronized attacks. Dozens of locations in and around the towns of Faradje and Doruma were attacked. About 500 civilians were killed and hundreds of others abducted.

Human Rights Spokesman, Rupert Colville, says last year's events haunt everyone in the region. "There is a major fear that they may, in fact, try and repeat, at least partly, what they did last Christmas this Christmas and the U.N. peacekeeping force in DRC, MONUC said last week it had gone on high alert because it had some indications that the LRA could try and do what they did last year, which was particularly savage. They had exploited Christmas, exploited the fact that people were gathering in town centers for the festivities. People were gathering in churches and they used that to maximize their impact," he said.

The LRA waged a civil war in Uganda for more than two decades. During that time, the rebel group abducted more than 10,000 children, using them as child soldiers and sex slaves. About a million people were displaced.

After the LRA was driven out of Uganda in 2002 and out of Southern Sudan in 2005, it took refuge in the Orientale Province, a remote corner in northern DRC.

Last year and early this year, the Congolese army, with support from the U.N. Mission in DRC, launched three separate military operations to try to dislodge the Lord's Resistance Army.

As a consequence, the LRA splintered into several groups and crossed into neighboring Central African Republic and Sudan. Colville says this may have reduced the intensity of their attacks, but it has not stopped them. "And the splinters themselves are causing problems in that they are now in three countries again, not just in one ... It is a very worrying situation because as you say, they have gone on for decades this group. They spent about 20 years largely in Uganda. The same style - killing, mutilating, raping, stealing children, sex slavery ... And, because they keep stealing people, they keep replenishing their forces. So, it is a very efficient form of barbarity in the practice by the LRA. They manage to replicate themselves and keep going," he said.

The report urges the international community to help the DRC improve the quality of its security forces and their ability to protect civilians. It also calls for governments to cooperate with the International Criminal Court in investigating and arresting all LRA leaders accused of international crimes.