LRA extend reach with new attacks
Bangui - Recent attacks by Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army show the sect extending its reach to vulnerable communities in the north of Central African Republic close to the border with Sudan and Chad, officials said.
The rebel group led by Joseph Kony has claimed around 2 000 lives in a series of brutal attacks across the region in the past two years and abducted thousands for use as child soldiers or sex slaves, human rights workers estimate.
The United States is due to make proposals next month for helping the countries of the mineral-producing central African region combat the LRA after President Barack Obama labelled the group an "affront to human dignity" that must be stopped.
"The growth of the LRA phenomenon that we thought was so far away is very worrying. So far all our appeals to the capital for help have gone unheard," Ramadane Mezane, the head of a medical centre in the northern town of Tiringoulou, said by telephone.
Mezane said the only resistance being put up so far to LRA fighters was from the UFDR, a former rebel group whose stronghold is in the north and which freed 45 villagers last month who had been captured by the LRA in the mining town of Sam-Ouandja.
The UFDR has been cooperating with the regular army after a 2007 accord gave it representation in the federal government.
Longstanding instability in Central African Republic, a country the size of France, has so far discouraged major investment in its gold, uranium and diamond deposits. A presidential election now set for Jan. 23 has been repeatedly postponed due to unrest and lack of funding.
Entourage of slave labourers
The UFDR said this week it killed four LRA rebels and lost one member in an October 04 clash in the northern town of Moanda.
"Our men are still pursuing these rebels which number around 60," UFDR chief of staff Joseph Zoundeko said.
Anneke Van Woudenberg of lobby group Human Rights Watch, which in August produced a report detailing LRA violence, said it appeared the group was pushing up to northern CAR.
"That would make it harder to pursue them. But the terrain will also be much harder for them (the LRA) as well," she said of the often near-desert conditions.
Van Woudenberg said most of the total 300-400 active LRA combatants in the region were child soldiers, accompanied by an entourage of slave labourers and abductees, many of whom were likely in the process of being turned into fighters.
Rather than a set ideology or political aim, the LRA adheres to a mix of apocalyptic religion and mysticism. Its brutality is notorious, including the clubbing of victims to death, and beatings with branches and machetes. HRW estimates around 300 000 locals have fled their homes for fear of such attacks.