Since a breakdown in peace talks with the Ugandan government last December, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has hacked, beaten to death or burnt alive more than 600 people in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Ugandan rebel group has also abducted an estimated 160 children since Christmas Eve. They reportedly use the girls as sex slaves, and train the boys to be child soldiers. In the latest incident, on Jan. 17, they entered a crowded church in the village of Tora in eastern Congo around midnight and set fire to the building, trapping many of the worshippers inside. The number of people who were killed or injured in the attack is not yet known.
The group is led by the self-proclaimed mystic Joseph Kony, who claims to model the LRA on the Bible’s Ten Commandments. Believed to be only around a thousand strong and lacking support from the local population, the group’s members are extremely skilled in bush warfare and tend to scatter and then regroup when under attack. They have continued their brutal reign of killing, raping and maiming the locals, despite recent offensives by the armies and militias of Uganda, southern Sudan and Congo, which are working together in an effort to put an end to the brutal attacks.
The LRA has a horrific record: since its warriors started fighting 20 years ago, they are believed to have killed and maimed more than 10,000 people and abducted 20,000 children. Those who are released are often badly disfigured or have their lips chopped off to scare them into silence. At least two million civilians have been displaced and forced to live in camps since the attacks began.
In 2006 the reclusive Kony emerged and, calling himself “a man of peace,” he agreed to a truce with the Ugandan army. But after more than two years of tortuous negotiations, the peace talks broke down. Kony, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes, has now demanded that any arrest warrants for him and his associates be dropped before an agreement can be struck.