The Ugandan army on Sunday accused Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels of hacking to death 45 people in a church in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
An aid official confirmed Friday’s massacre, saying the killings took place in a Catholic church in the Doruma area, about 40km from the Sudanese border.
“We got information the rebels cut 45 people into pieces,” army spokesman Captain Chris Magezi said.
“They were cut with pangas [machetes] and hit with clubs but some luckily managed to escape. Our forces came to know about the killings while pursuing the LRA yesterday [Saturday] and the pursuit is on for the killers,” he said.
Magezi said the victims, mostly women, children and the elderly, were mutilated in the style used by Hutu extremists during the 1994 Rwanda genocide.
Forces from Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo and south Sudan launched a joint operation against the Ugandan LRA rebels in northeastern DR Congo earlier this month.
The aid official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there were scenes of carnage in and around the church where the killings took place.
“There are body parts everywhere. Inside the church, the entrance and in the church compound,” the official said.
Orientale Province Vice Governor Joseph Bangakya Angaze said by telephone that “fighting has broken out around Doruma since Friday, between elements of the LRA and local groups” set up to defend their communities.
Magezi had also accused the rebels of killing 35 civilians in attacks on Wednesday and on Thursday in areas in south Sudan and northeastern DR Congo.
But LRA spokesman David Nyekorach Matsanga denied the rebels were behind the killings.
“Reports about the LRA killing innocent civilians is another propaganda campaign by the Uganda army,” Matsanga said.
“I am not a military spokesman for the LRA but I have it on good authority from the field commanders that the LRA is not in those areas where the killings are reported to have taken place,” he said.
“We need an independent verification to know who is responsible for these killings in Doruma because LRA has stated before we want peace not war because fighting won’t help,” he said.
The two sides have been engaged in peace talks for more than two years.
On Saturday Matsanga said the LRA chief Joseph Kony was still open to talks but preferred Tanzanian or South African mediation because south Sudan was involved in the military offensive.
Kony has repeatedly refused to sign a peace deal with Kampala because of International Criminal Court arrest warrants against him and his lieutenants for war crimes.
But Magezi insisted the killings of civilians will not deter the joint forces from hunting the rebels. He also condemned “these heinous acts by the LRA terrorists.”
“They [LRA] think by killing innocent civilians the allied forces will be intimidated to back off from the operation. They are misleading themselves,” said Magezi, who is the spokesman for the regional forces.