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170 Killed as Ugandan Rebels Attack Refugee Camp - 2004-02-22

Rebels in northern Uganda attacked a refugee camp for three hours Saturday, killing more than 170 people, according to reports from the scene.

A Roman Catholic missionary stationed in the northern Ugandan town of Lira, Father Sebat Ayala, told VOA that 100-300 rebels bombed and set fire to the Barlonyo displaced person's camp near Lira town.

He says that, according to witnesses, the rebels warned residents of the 4,800-person camp to flee, while some were told to hide in their huts. Many of those who sheltered in their huts were burned to death.

"Myself, I counted 121 bodies," said Father Ayala, who visited the scene. "In one hut, I found seven dead bodies still burning, in another one, about three. All the bodies were just scattered around the camp."

Father Ayala says that by the time he got to the camp, 51 people had already been buried in a mass grave.

News reports said the camp was attacked by rebels of the Lord's Resistance Army, armed with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades.

Father Ayala says the camp was defended by only 35 members of the Local Defense Unit, militias of local recruits created by the Ugandan government to guard communities across the north. Father Ayala says 11 militia members were killed in the attack.

VOA was unable to reach army spokesman Shaban Bantariza immediately. He confirmed to journalists that a massacre took place at the camp and that people were burned, although he did not specify the number killed.

Father Ayala says survivors are experiencing extreme despair and suffering. He called for the international community to act to stop the rebel attacks. But he said the outside world has done little or nothing about the situation so far.

"Why can't they pressurize the government? Why can't they do something? We do not understand why the international community is silent about the whole issue," he said. "People are dying every week."

Rebels of the Lord's Resistance Army have been randomly attacking communities in northern Uganda for the past 18 years. At one time its leader, Joseph Kony, said he and his group wanted to rule Uganda according to the Biblical Ten Commandments.