Lord's Resistance Army fuels conflict

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LISA: There have been some reports of a massacre in northeast Congo. An aid agency says a rebel group from nearby Uganda has killed hundreds of Congolese since Christmastime. The group is called The Lord's Resistance Army, and as The World's Katy Clark reports, it's notorious in the region. We have a word of warning now. This story contains some disturbing images.

KATY: The Lord's Resistance Army, or LRA, has been waging one of Africa's most brutal wars for more than two decades. The LRA is more of a cult than a traditional rebel force. Its leader, Joseph Kony, says God speaks directly through him.
Some of the group's trademarks include cutting off the lips of civilians and forcing thousands of children to serve as soldiers or sex slaves. The BBC's Africa analyst Martin Plaut says much of the news of the LRA's latest atrocities comes from the staff of the Catholic aid agency Caritas, based in northeast Congo.

MARTIN: And they said something like 400 people had been slaughtered over the Christmas period in a number of attacks on villages. People have been set upon, their houses have been burned. Men and women have been hacked to death. Others have been thrown into fires. It was an absolutely appalling situation. And perhaps, worst of all, the children were once again marched off by the Lord's Resistance Army to join their forces.

KATY: Many of the victims were struck down during a Christmas Day concert at a local church. The LRA denies carrying out the attacks, but Caritas International's Patrick Mickelson says there's no question in his mind who is responsible.

PATRICK: Our staff, priests, and bishops on the ground who, you know, witnessed this, who have spoken to eyewitnesses, all say categorically it was the LRA who carried out these attacks. And they've been living under this threat for two months, at least. And they know the people who are carrying out these crimes.

KATY: LRA fighters moved to Congo form their original bases in Northern Uganda three years ago. They've been under increasing pressure from Congo, Uganda, and Sudan. The three nations recently staged a joint military offensive against the rebel group after peace talks between the LRA and the Ugandan government stalled last spring. The Ugandan government claims that the offensive destroyed more than half of the LRA camps in Congo. Joseph Kony is thought to control a force of about 650 fighters.
Katherine Bond is a freelance journalist based in Kenya. She's conducted extensive interviews with the LRA. Bond says Kony and his army have been able to survive so long because they adapt quickly to whatever's thrown at them.

KATHERINE: You know, they move very fast and if the Ugandan army comes up with an offensive, the LRA seems to be able to keep ahead of the Ugandan army.

KATY: Bond says there are also questions whether the Ugandan army really wants to catch Kony.

KATHERINE: From time to time, you have heard stories of them chasing Kony and then stopping just short of him. You know, it seems incredible in this day and age with the satellite technology that Joseph Kony could have eluded the Ugandan army for so very long had they really wanted to get their hands on him.

KATY: Bond says there have been suggestions that the government in the southern part of Uganda benefits politically by keeping the north weak and unstable. Joseph Kony and his top lieutenants are now wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Kony would like to negotiate his way out of arrest by settling in a country not party to the ICC, but so far no luck.
As hard as it might be to believe, some of the victims of Kony's atrocities say they're ready to forgive him. That includes Nora Feviocelo. Her daughter was abducted by the LRA at the age of 14 and held for 8 years.

NORA: I'm ready to forgive him because I want to come to the end of the war.

KATY: 22 years is apparently long enough. For The World, this is Katy Clark.