Hundreds of African villagers kidnapped and forced to fight

By Michael Logan

Nairobi/Washington (dpa) – A notorious Ugandan rebel group has

abducted hundreds of villagers in the Central African Republic and

the Democratic Republic of Congo and forced them to fight, Human

Rights Watch said.

   According to HRW research released Thursday, the Lord’s Resistance

Army (LRA) has seized more than 697 adults and children over the last

18 months in CAR and the Bas Uele district of northern DR Congo.

   Around one third of those abducted were children, who are being

forced to serve as soldiers or sex slaves, HRW said.

   “The LRA continues its horrific campaign to replenish its ranks by

brutally tearing children from their villages and forcing them to

fight,” said Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior Africa researcher at HRW.

“The evidence points to Joseph Kony, the LRA leader, as the author of

this atrocious campaign.

   Some 255 people have been killed by the group – often by the child

soldiers – and as many as 74,000 have fled their homes in the same

period, according to HRW.

   The rebel group, which fled to the jungles of DR Congo in 2005

after its rebellion in northern Uganda was crushed, is well-known for

its tactics of forced recruitment.

   Kony and other LRA leaders are subject to International Criminal

Court arrest warrants for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

   Ugandan and Congolese forces failed to eradicate the guerillas

during a military operation that began in December 2008. The group

now flits between CAR, DR Congo and Southern Sudan.

   HRW called on Uganda, national governments and the United Nations

– which has a large peacekeeping presence in the sprawling DR Congo –

to do more to protect civilians.

   The research was carried out over a month, during which time HRW

employees interviewed hundreds of civilians, including 90 people who

escaped the LRA’s clutches.