Amnesty International has called on the United Nations and governments in Central Africa to take immediate action to have men, women and children, thought to have been abducted by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in recent weeks, freed. Tendai Maphosa has more in this report from London.
The abductions of more than 350 men, women and children occurred in the Central African Republic (CAR), the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Southern Sudan. Amnesty says while the areas from which they were abducted are unstable and other groups sometimes kidnap people, the human rights group's spokesman Godfrey Byaruhanga says these abductions bear the hallmarks of the LRA.
"In the Central African Republic there have been other bandits who have carried out abductions but in most cases the victims are abducted for ransom but this has not been the practice of the Lord's Resistance Army and in this, those who have abducted the civilians have not demanded a ransom and the manner in which the abductions took place appears to be systematic with how the LRA has carried out its abductions and atrocities in the region and particularly in Uganda in the past," said Byaruhanga.
Byaruhanga explained that during the LRA's 20 year insurgency in Uganda, women and girls abducted by the rebel group were used as sex slaves while boys and men were forced into combat and forced to commit atrocities. They were also used as porters to carry looted property.
The latest kidnappings happened at a time when the LRA has approved a peace agreement with the Ugandan government. The deal was supposed to be signed late last month but LRA leader Joseph Kony has been stalling. The International Criminal Court in The Hague issued warrants of arrest for him and four of his top commanders in 2005 for large-scale abductions, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Two of those wanted by the ICC are known to have since died. Byaruhanga says this might be one of the reasons Kony won't come out of his jungle hideout to sign.
"Apparently one of the conditions he is making is that the charges that have been brought against him and other LRA commanders must be dropped by the International Criminal Court," Byaruhanga said.
Amnesty also called on international peacekeeping and government forces in the Central Africa region to cooperate to arrest and then surrender any person subject to an ICC arrest warrant.