- Associated Press - Thursday, August 12, 2010

DAKAR, Senegal | One of Africa’s most vicious rebel groups has killed at least 255 people over the past 18 months in a largely unreported campaign of abductions and massacres in Congo and the Central African Republic, a human rights group said in a report sent to journalists on Thursday.

The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) began its attacks in Uganda more than 20 years ago and has since been pushed progressively westward. It is active in the triangle of land that stretches across the border between Congo, Central African Republic and southern Sudan.

There the foreign rebel group has been replenishing its ranks by waging a campaign of abductions, including snatching scores of children, who have been forced to become child soldiers or sex slaves, the New York-based Human Rights Watch said in its report. Adults, who are used as porters, are also abducted.

During the kidnappings, the LRA brutally killed those who walked too slowly or buckled under the heavy loads they were forced to carry, the report said. Many had their skulls crushed with clubs; children taken into captivity were forced to beat to death other children, including their own siblings.

The large-scale abductions began in July 2009 in southern Central African Republic, where more than 300 of the nearly 700 kidnap victims were taken, the report said. The most recent abductions were on June 12 and 13, when 16 people were seized, including a 2-year-old girl who was slaughtered later.

At the same time, a kidnapping campaign was under way in the remote Bas Uele district of northern Congo, where the LRA kidnapped about 80 people in March from the town of Banda.

Two months later, the LRA attacked the villages near Ango, and those who escaped told the rights group that the rebels had questioned them about the location of schools, indicating they were looking for elementary-school-age children, according to the report.

The LRA has a history of swelling its ranks with children as young as 10, who are easier to control. The group breaks them by forcing them to perform unspeakable brutalities on other children, including their own brothers or sisters.

Of the 45 children interviewed by Human Rights Watch who had escaped from the LRA, almost all had been forced to kill other children.

A 17-year-old Congolese girl named Osanna who had been abducted from Banda in March 2009 protested when the commander to whom she had been assigned tried to rape her. The rebels tied her up and forced the other children abducted from her hometown to take turns smashing her head with a heavy wooden stick until she died, the report said. Among the children forced to participate was her 12-year-old sister.

“The LRA continues its horrific campaign to replenish its ranks by brutally tearing children from their villages and forcing them to fight,” said Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The evidence points to Joseph Kony, the LRA leader, as the author of this atrocious campaign.”

Mr. Kony is wanted by the International Criminal Court under a 2005 warrant for crimes against humanity in his native Uganda.

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