Suspected Lords Resistance Army (LRA) rebels led by fugitive Joseph Kony have massacred 35 civilians in coordinated attacks in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and South Sudan.
Well placed military sources told Saturday Monitor that on Christmas Day the marauding rebels raided Bitima, along the South-Sudan DRC border killing at least 13 civilians. The rebels are also reported to have killed another 12 people in Faraje, a small town about 150km East of Dungu the UPDF operations base in DR Congo. The two attacks took place on the afternoon and evening of December 25 respectively.
The UPDF spokesman for Operation Lightning Thunder, now being conducted in the vast eastern part of the Congo, Capt. Chris Magezi said apart from the killings in Faraje and Bitima, suspected rebels ambushed a civilian pick up truck between Lasolo-Mambe road in South Sudan killing all the three occupants .
“Our forces who are pursuing the rebels found another five bodies of civilians, South west of Sekure, along the DRC-Sudan border ,” Capt. Magezi said by satellite telephone link from DRC. Capt. Magezi said, two more civilians were killed at Doruma, close to the Central African Republic, bringing the total number of people killed by the rebels on Christmas Day to 35.
According to the UN sponsored Radio Okapi in DRC, five children were also abducted by the rebels in Dungu. “The allied forces condemn these attacks against innocent civilians by the LRA terrorists. It is this reason why Kony failed to sign the peace agreement for over two years and this justifies the action the allied troops have taken against these terrorists,” he added.
Uganda, DR Congo and the semi-autonomous South Sudan on December 14, launched a joint military operation codenamed ‘Lightning Thunder’ against the LRA rebels who have been holed up in north-eastern Congo’s Garamba Forests since 2005. The allied forces have since established their tactical headquarters at Dungu, about 90km from Garamba in eastern DR Congo.
The number of civilians killed by suspected LRA rebels has reached 28 since the military offensive against the rebels was launched two weeks ago. Sunday Monitor last week reported the rebels killed two civilians in Western Equatoria state of South Sudan.
A senior South Sudan intelligence officer currently in Juba, South Sudan, who declined to be named because he is not the official spokesperson of the South Sudan government confirmed the killings and blamed them on the LRA. “We got confirmation from the areas that have been attacked that LRA is responsible and we have deployed against them,” the intelligence officer stated.
Capt. Magezi said because of the attacks by the rebels, the allied forces have changed tactics from just pursuing the rebels to maintaining forces on the ground to protect civilians. “It is a strategy we used in Northern Uganda and it succeeded,” Capt. Magezi said. He said the attacks on civilians will not make the forces back off from their mission to capture Kony and bring him to justice.
Saturday Monitor can reveal that on Wednesday the allied forces uncovered a huge consignment of human medicine and tones of food in an LRA camp ‘Eskimo’, about 5km north of camp Swahili in Garamba. The drugs were supplied by Christian relief agency (Caritas), to facilitate the failed peace talks between the rebels and the government in Juba. The army destroyed the recovered drugs. Military sources further revealed that the UPDF was in possession of Kony’s laptop which was seized in the rebels’ camp ‘Eskimo’. The laptop is being examined by the UPDF’s intelligence.
Meanwhile, the body of the pilot of Mig-21 fighter jet, Lt. John Bosco Opio, that crashed in Isiro DR Congo on Wednesday was flown in the country on Thursday and will be buried in Kumi today. President Yoweri Museveni has appointed Maj. Gen. Jim Owoyesigire, the Air force commander, to lead a panel of investigators to establish the cause of the crash. Lt. Opio, 30, is one of Uganda’s army pilots who trained in Israel to fly combat jets. Lt. Opio joined the air force in 1998.
Capt. Magezi described the fatal crash as a setback to the ongoing military operations but said, “our spirits remain high in pursuit of the LRA terrorists”. Capt. Magezi described the late Opio as a resourceful person to the force.
Reported in the Daily Monitor by Grace Matsiko