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HRW report: LRA atrocities in Northeastern Congo

Human Rights Watch (HRW) publicou hoxe un informe sobre as violacións dos Direitos Humanos cometidas polo Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Este grupo armado caracterízase pola brutalidade dos seus ataques contra civís, e por seren pouco claros, se é que existen, os seus obxectivos políticos. Opera en Uganda, Congo (DRC), Sudán e a República Centroafricana (CAR).

O informe, dunhas 60 páxinas, leva por título “Trail of Death: LRA Atrocities in Northeastern Congo”. Copio un extracto da súa introducción (a negrita é miña):

[…] Between December 14 and 17, 2009, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a Ugandan rebel group, carried out a horrific attack in the Makombo area of Haut Uele district in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, near the border with Sudan. In a well-planned operation, the LRA killed more than 321 civilians and abducted more than 250 others, including at least 80 children. The vast majority of those killed were adult men who were first tied up before LRA combatants hacked them to death with machetes or crushed their skulls with axes or heavy wooden sticks. Family members and local authorities later found battered bodies tied to trees; other bodies were found in the forest or brush land all along the 105-kilometer round journey made by the LRA group during the operation. Witnesses told HRW that for days and weeks after the attack, this remote area was filled with the “stench of death”. The attack was one of the largest single massacres in the LRA’s 23-year history.

The LRA used similar tactics in each village they attacked during their four-day operation: they pretended to be Congolese and Ugandan army soldiers on patrol, reassured people in broken Lingala (the common language of northern Congo) not to be afraid, and, once people had gathered, captured their victims and tied them up. LRA combatants specifically searched out areas where people might gather —such as markets, churches, and water points— and repeatedly asked those they encountered about the location of schools, indicating that one of their objectives was to abduct children. Those who were abducted, including many children aged 10 to 15 years old, were tied up with ropes or metal wire at the waist, often in human chains of five to 15 people. They were made to carry the goods the LRA had pillaged and then forced to march off with them. Anyone who refused, walked too slowly, or who tried to escape was killed. Children were not spared.

Despite the enormous civilian death toll, the attack in the Makombo area made no headlines. Congolese and Ugandan soldiers based in Haut Uele district arrived in the area of the killings on December 18, 2009, alerted by reports of an LRA attack. But the remoteness of the region and the lack of telephone communications meant the news of the attack traveled slowly. On December 26, the Congolese army sent a small investigation team to look into the incident. After three days, the team returned, concluding that a large massacre had occurred, perpetrated by the LRA. The Congolese army sent soldiers to the area who established a base nearby, but no further action was taken by the Congolese government or army to help the affected communities. Ugandan soldiers attempted to pursue the LRA assailants but without success.

Publicly, the governments of Uganda and Congo both maintain that the LRA is no longer a serious threat in northern Congo and that the bulk of the rebel group has either moved to CAR or been neutralized. The LRA clearly remains a threat to civilians. While the LRA may have been weakened and dispersed as a result of the military campaign, the group’s ability to attack and abduct civilians remains intact, as illustrated by the gruesome operation in the Makombo area. Such public declarations by the Congolese and Ugandan governments may have contributed to the burying of information about ongoing LRA attacks. One effect has been that many people in northeastern Congo feel utterly abandoned and ignored.

At the end of December, the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Congo (MONUC), received information about the attack. With its resources thinly stretched and limited intelligence on the location of LRA groups, MONUC was in no position to avert the Makombo massacre, but it took no immediate steps to follow up on the reported LRA attack and to investigate what had happened. At the time, MONUC had some 1,000 peacekeepers in Haut Uele district but its focus was on responding to rumors of a possible LRA attack on the district capital, Dungu, and other large population centers. MONUC also remained concentrated on the crisis in the Kivu provinces of eastern Congo leaving limited resources to respond to LRA-affected areas to the north. With many staff away for the Christmas holidays, no decision was made to change priorities. In January 2010, MONUC officials again received reports indicating that as many as 266 people may have died in the Makombo area, but no investigation was launched. Only on March 11, 2010, nearly 10 weeks after first receiving reports of the attack, and after briefings from HRW, did MONUC send a team of human rights specialists to the area. […]

The Makombo massacre may not be the only unreported large-scale attack. HRW has also received reports of LRA attacks in remote regions of Central African Republic (CAR) that have received little attention or follow-up from the CAR government or the UN. […]

In December 2008, the governments in the region led by the Ugandan military, with intelligence and logistical support from the United States, launched another military campaign against the LRA’s bases in northeastern Congo, known as Operation Lightning Thunder. It too failed to neutralize the LRA leadership, which escaped. In retaliation for the military campaign, the LRA attacked numerous Congolese villages over the 2008 Christmas period and into January 2009, slaughtering over 865 civilians and abducting hundreds more. […]

On March 11, 2010, the US Senate unanimously passed the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act, which if enacted into law, requires the administration of President Barack Obama to develop a regional strategy to protect civilians in central Africa from attacks by the LRA, work to apprehend the LRA leadership, and support economic recovery for northern Uganda. The bill is currently pending before the US House of Representatives. […]

Esta é unha das “crises olvidadas” que case nunca saen nos mass media. Para reflexionar: a) houbo máis mortos que nos atentados do 11 de marzo (Madrid, 2004); b) o LRA fai terrorismo no nome da relixión cristiá, e temos claro que este grupo non representa á inmensa maioría dos cristiáns; ¿non será etnocentrismo que non o teñamos tan claro no caso de terroristas que din profesar a relixión islámica?

28 Marzo 2010 - Posted by | Central African Republic, Congo (DRC), Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, Politics, Sudan, Uganda, United States

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