THE EXODUS: Residents of Abako sub-county flee to Lira town after Joseph Kony’s LRA rebels raided their villages on Thursday (Pix: Peter Busomoke)
KAMPALA, Sunday - Thousands of terrified people are fleeing a number of villages in Lira district and seeking shelter in and around Lira town.
“They are cutting off people’s heads. Every time we hear of an incident, it’s a new level of brutality,” said Father John Fraser, who helps run the Catholic Church-owned radio station in Lira, a town of about 100,000 inhabitants.
“Lira is chock-a-block (full to capacity). People have been pouring into town for the last three days,” he told Reuters, estimating the influx at between 2,000 and 3,000 people a day.
“People are very frightened. There is no way anyone is going back into the villages anytime soon.”
The Vatican missionary news service, MISNA, said rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), headed by Joseph Kony, killed about 60 people on a rampage through Lira district, forcing some villagers to watch as they beheaded the corpses of fellow villagers they had just killed.
Army spokesman Maj. Shaban Bantariza on Saturday put the death toll at over 40.
The rebels shot and hacked to death scores of civilians on Thursday night and Friday morning, beheading some of them, in apparent revenge for the killing of a rebel commander, the army said on Saturday.
Local priests reported villagers as saying rebels had set fire to many huts with the inhabitants still inside but this could not be immediately confirmed.
“Scores of civilians were killed at around midnight on November 6 in Alanyi and Awayopiny villages in Lira district,” Lt. Chris Magezi, a spokesman for the army’s Third Division, told Reuters on Saturday.
He had said the toll might exceed 100 but later said there was no confirmation of the number killed.
Magezi said Kony appeared to have ordered the raid to avenge the army’s October 29 killing of LRA number two Charles Tabuley, a move widely seen as likely to weaken rebel operations.
The LRA says it wants to topple the Government of President Yoweri Museveni but it has never spelt out its demands publicly.
Sudan and Uganda in October renewed a pact to cooperate in removing rebels from southern Sudan. The deal allowing Ugandan troops to pursue the LRA in southern Sudan expired in September.
Uganda accused Sudan in September of resuming the support it once gave to the rebels. Khartoum denied the accusations and said it would deal seriously with rogue military officers it suspected were collaborating with the LRA.
Meanwhile, Roman Catholic archbishop John Baptist Odama yesterday assailed the government for arming civilians against the LRA.
“The army’s strategy to form civilian defence forces has made civilians vulnerable and hence potential targets of the rebels,” Odama told AFP.
Odama heads the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative, which is seeking a peaceful end to the war.
The archbishop, who said arming civilians had brought “the gravity of brutality on our region,” blamed lack of trust between the government and the rebels for undermining the peace efforts.
Published on: Monday, 10th November, 2003
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