28th March, 2010
By Vision Reporter
A human rights organisation yesterday released a chilling report indicating that the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) killed at least 321 civilians during a previously unreported four-day rampage in northeastern Congo in December.
The rampaging rebels, according to the report by Human Rights Watch, also abducted 250 villagers, including at least 80 children.
The massacre was perpetrated by rebel commanders Binansio Okumu, also known as Binany, and Obol.
The two, the report said, report to Dominic Ongwen who commands the LRA forces in Congo and is among those indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.
“The Makombo massacre is one of the worst ever committed by the LRA in its bloody 23-year history, yet it has gone unreported for months,” said Anneke Van Woudenberg of Human Rights Watch.
The report is based on a fact-finding mission to the massacre area in February. It documents the brutal killings during the well-planned LRA attack from December 14 to 17 in the remote Makombo area of Haute Uele district.
Dressed in military uniforms, the rebels pretended to be Congolese soldiers who had spent months in the forests and asked local people for food and other goods.
They then asked people to carry the goods back to where they had crossed the Uele River, and when the villagers refused, the rebels turned on them.
Survivors of the attack narrated nasty accounts of their ordeal in the hands of the LRA.
They said the vast majority of those killed were adult men who were tied and hacked to death with machetes, or had their skulls crushed with axes and wooden sticks.
The dead also included at least 13 women and 23 children, the youngest a 3-year-old girl who was burned to death. When moving to the next village, the rebels killed more people among those they had abducted.
Anyone who was unable to keep up with the pace of the forced march was ‘left behind’ - a euphemism for being tied up and battered to death with wooden stakes or killed with machetes and axes. Those who refused or tried to escape were also brutally killed.
Many of the children captured by the LRA were forced to kill other children who had disobeyed the LRA’s rules.
In numerous cases documented by Human Rights Watch, children were ordered to surround the victim in a circle and take turns beating the child on the head with a large wooden stick until the child died.
Family members and local authorities later found bodies all along the LRA’s 105-kilometer journey through the Makombo area and the small town of Tapili.
Witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that for weeks after the attack, the area was filled with the stench of death.
Lt. Jeanvier Bahati, a Congolese army commander in the Tapili area, was one of the first to arrive at the massacre site and helped to bury the dead.
“I saw with my own eyes 268 dead bodies, because we buried them - there was no-one else to do it,” he told BBC. The UN peacekeeping mission in Congo had heard rumours that an attack was to be launched around Christmas, and reinforced their troops in the area.
But they were deployed to towns like Dungu and Niangara rather than the remote villages where the killings finally took place.
The UN have some 1,000 peacekeepers in the LRA-affected areas of northeastern Congo, far too few to protect the population adequately given the area’s size.
Instead of sending more troops, the peacekeeping force is considering removing some troops from the northeast by June in the first phase of its total withdrawal next year, as requested by Kinshasa.
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