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UNHCR Appeals for More UN, Congolese Troops to Protect Civilians

VOA News - January 1, 2009
State-owned radio in Uganda reports that troops have arrested a top commander of the rebel Lord's Resistance Army. The report says Okot Odhiambo was captured in Congo's Garamba Forest as he tried to escape to the Central African Republic.

The UN refugee agency is appealing to the Congolese government to send more troops to protect civilians in Orientale Province in the northeastern corner of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Ugandan rebel Lord's Resistance Army massacred hundreds of civilians in the area over the Christmas period.  

Rebels from the Lord's Resistance Army went on a killing spree on Christmas day in the village of Faradje. And, over the next two days, the rebels attacked the villages of Doruma and Gurba.  

In a telephone interview from Bunia, UNHCR Emergency Officer for Dungu, Margaride Fawke, told VOA, the LRA took a heavy toll on the helpless civilian population.

"I think it is somewhere between four and 500 people killed. The sources that I have are the civil society in Dungu who are in touch by radio with the Catholic Church in Doruma and in Faradje?So, these are normally their sources," said Margaride.  

Witnesses said the LRA massacred civilians in a church, which they subsequently burned down. They said they hacked to death dozens of villagers in their path, abducted at least 20 children and an unknown number of adults. They looted and burned villages.

The LRA, an indigenous Ugandan rebel group, has been trying to overthrow the Ugandan government for more than two decades. Over that period, it has forced two million people to flee their homes and abducted more than 10,000 children, who were used as soldiers, porters and sex slaves.

In mid-December, Congolese, Ugandan and Sudanese troops jointly attacked the LRA in an effort to uproot the rebel group from its jungle base in Equatoria Province. They believe the LRA attacked the villages in an act of vengeance against the joint military offensive.

Fawke said it is critical that MONUC, the U.N. mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Congolese Army deploy more troops in the area of Doruma and Faradje to stop the killings and allow the humanitarian agencies to provide aid to civilians in these inaccessible areas.  

"The area is not well protected. There are still large sections of the Garamba Park and the whole village district is not properly protected and that is how these killings came to happen because, if the Congolese army had been there in the first place, it would not have been so terrible?They could not have done the damage that they did."  

Fawke said the UNHCR, other UN agencies and MONUC are going to the stricken area on Saturday to assess the needs of the people. She said people reportedly lack everything-food, water, shelter and medical care.

She said representatives of Doctors Without Borders who have seen survivors of the massacre reported they are severely traumatized and will need long-term psychological care.

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