Scores killed in machete attack on Congolese churchgoers

Ugandan rebels hacked Catholics to death in Boxing Day rampage
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The Independent Online

Attackers hacked to death scores of people at a Catholic church in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Boxing Day. The Ugandan army and a rebel group have accused each other of carrying out the massacre.

The United Nations said that 189 people were killed in three villages over two days, 89 of them at the village of Doruma, where the church is located. The killings occurred close to the DRC's border with Sudan, in a remote area in the east, near to where the armies of those two countries and Uganda began an offensive this month to root out the rebel Lord's Resistance Army.

"The scene at the church was unbelievable. It was horrendous. On the floor were dead bodies of mostly women and children cut in pieces," said Captain Chris Magezi, a Ugandan army spokesman. He blamed the Lord's Resistance Army for the massacre and quoted witnesses as saying the rebels used machetes, clubs and swords.

The rebels denied responsibility. Their spokesman, David Matsanga, said that the Lord's Resistance Army had no fighters in the area and accused Uganda's army of the killings.

However, Abel Longi, a witness, said he recognised the rebels by their dreadlocked hair, their Acholi language and the number of young boys among them. "I hid in a bush near the church and heard people wailing as they were being cut with machetes," said Mr Longi, who owns a shop in the village of Doruma.

The UN's spokesman, Ivo Brandau, said that 120 homes were set ablaze in the area and that thousands of people have fled for fear of further attacks.

Death toll estimates, however, have varied, in part because the area is so remote. A European aid worker, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the organisation fears reprisals, said the death toll was more than 100 and the Congolese military put the number of dead at between 120 and 150. Capt Magezi said 45 civilians were killed.

UN-run Radio Okapi quoted the governor of the DRC's Oriental Province, Medard Autsai Senga, as saying that the death toll had surpassed 75 and that bodies still were being discovered around the church.

The militias of the Lord's Resistance Army have waged one of Africa's longest and most brutal wars for the past two decades. Aid groups and human rights monitors have also accused them of cutting off the lips of civilians and forcing thousands of children to serve as soldiers or sex slaves. The conflict has spilled out of northern Uganda and into Sudan and the DRC.

The DRC suffered back-to-back civil wars from 1996 to 2002 that drew in neighbouring countries in what became a rush to plunder the country's massive mineral wealth.

Peace talks between the Lord's Resistance Army and the Ugandan government have stalled as rebel leaders want guarantees that they would not be arrested under international warrants. Their leader, Joseph Kony, and other top members are wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague for war crimes and crimes against humanity.