Ugandan LRA rebels preparing to enter CAR: Minister
Hundreds of LRA fighters are fleeing a nearly 3-week-old multinational assault led by Uganda against their bases in northeastern Congo.
Ugandan Lord's Resistance Army rebels, who killed hundreds of Congolese villagers in a massacre, are preparing to enter neighbouring Central African Republic, Congo's government spokesman said.
Hundreds of LRA fighters are fleeing a nearly 3-week-old multinational assault led by Uganda against their bases in Garamba National Park, in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
"According to intelligence we have received, they are preparing to enter Central African Republic. A pursuit is underway," Congo's Information Minister Lambert Mende said.
"(The Central African Republic government) is sending troops to the border," he told Reuters on Saturday.
Central African Republic authorities could not be reached.
The LRA was driven out of northern Uganda, where its two-decade bush war killed thousands of people and displaced 2 million more, but the group has continued to carry out raids in Congo, Sudan and Central African Republic.
In February and March last year, LRA fighters crossed over Congo's porous border with Central African Republic.
Over 10 days, they attacked villages in the impoverished former French colony's sparsely populated east, abducting about 150 people for use as porters, sex slaves and child soldiers.
Uganda, Congo and South Sudan launched a joint assault on Dec. 14 after LRA leader Joseph Kony again failed to sign a deal to end his rebellion against Uganda's government.
Ugandan military officials have said bombing raids destroyed the majority of the LRA's jungle strongholds.
U.N., Congolese and Ugandan officials have said the rebels, estimated to number between 800 and 1,000, have splintered into smaller groups. Only some are believed to be headed for CAR.
In an overnight raid on Friday, dozens of rebels attacked a park ranger station in the town of Nagero, several hundred kilometres from the border with Central African Republic.
Rising death toll
Despite claims of early success and the unanimous backing of U.N. Security Council members, the offensive has failed to find Kony, a reclusive self-styled mystic, or crush his rebellion.
An LRA spokesman said Kony, who is wanted for war crimes along with two deputies by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, survived the camp bombings.
Human rights campaigners are increasingly worried by heavy civilian casualties from assaults by fleeing LRA fighters.
During three days of raids beginning on Dec. 25, fleeing LRA fighters attacked several Congolese towns, slaughtering civilians and looted and burned hundreds of homes.
The deputy governor of Orientale province, where the attacks happened, told Reuters on Saturday that the bodies of 271 victims had so far been buried, but the death toll was rising.
"The number is going up every day," Joseph Bangakya said. "Most were killed with machetes. (The LRA) are trying to save their ammunition."
Catholic humanitarian charity Caritas said it believed more than 400 people had died in the attacks.
Uganda has sent more troops to the area to prevent more LRA raids. Congo's 17,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping mission, MONUC, has said it is assisting the deployment of additional Congolese forces but is not participating directly in the joint offensive.
Reuters Last Mod: 03 Ocak 2009, 18:23