The international organization Human Rights Watch says a rebel group has killed more than 250 adults and children in Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic during the past 18 months. In a report released Wednesday, it says the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) has abducted almost 700 people in the two countries.
Human Rights Watch says more than one-third of those abducted in the past 18 months have been children. Many, it says, are forced to work as soldiers or are used as sex slaves.
"The basic tactic is to go into the villages and to abduct children and adults and then use the adults to carry off looted material to their camps, but then also to take the children and to turn them into recruits and fighters for the Lord's Resistance Army. In fact, that seems to be the main motivation for this campaign of abductions and violence," said Tom Porteous, London director of Human Rights Watch.
The Lord's Resistance Army has a long history of recruiting child soldiers. But Porteous says what is new is the location of their attacks.
He says the Ugandan government has been carrying out military campaigns against the LRA since 2005, but the campaign has failed to wipe out the rebel group. Instead, he says, it has only changed the boundaries.
"I think part of the problem is that when the Ugandan government carries out this kind of military campaign against the LRA, the LRA simply widens the scope of its activities, and they disappear into other parts of the region," he added. "The LRA is now active in a very wide, wide region."
The Human Rights Watch report comes at the end of a one-month research mission to the Central Africa Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo that ended on August 11. More than 500 people were interviewed.
The report says more 697 people have been abducted. Of those, it says 255 adults and children have been killed. The report says LRA fighters killed those who tried to escape, walked too slowly, or could not bear the loads they were forced to carry.
Porteous says the LRA appears to be on a recruitment campaign to increase the number of fighters in its ranks.
"We have got some indications from some of the people we spoke to who are former abductees of the LRA that one of the reasons why the LRA is carrying out this campaign of abductions is in order to replenish its ranks in order to return to Uganda," noted Porteous. "But at the same time, it may be the case that the LRA has just become this self-sustaining monster that does not have any strategic aims."
The LRA has fought the Ugandan government since 1986. Its head, Joseph Kony, is wanted by the International Criminal Court.