Ugandan rebels the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) killed eight civilians as they retreated from a failed attack on the offices of a game park in north-east Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo), Ugandan officials said on Tuesday.
The LRA is believed to have killed around 500 civilians in the region in recent weeks in an apparent response to a military offensive by Uganda, DR Congo and South Sudan.
“They [rebels] thought they would find some guns in the offices of the park but they did not find any,” Ugandan Deputy Defense Minister Ruth Nankabirwa said.
“The rebels killed the people not within the park but in the neighborhood,” she added.
LRA spokesman David Matsanga said the rebel group was innocent of the charges. He accused a Ugandan army battalion of carrying out the attacks to implicate the LRA.
“As far as we are concerned, the Ugandan army is in full control of Garamba,” Matsanga said. “It is the 105th battalion that is responsible for the killings.”
Matsanga said the LRA was still committed to a peace process that faltered in 2008, leading to the attack on the rebels in December.
The LRA is alleged to have begun its rampage on Christmas Eve, killing civilians in two villages in DR Congo.
On Dec. 26, the LRA guerrillas massacred dozens of people in a church in DR Congo, according to Ugandan military sources and aid workers.
The guerrillas used machetes, swords and clubs to kill the people — amongst them women and children — who had taken refuge in a Catholic church near the border with the Central African Republic.
The rebels have been hiding out in Garamba since late 2004 after being flushed out of their bases in South Sudan.
The LRA, led by former lay preacher Joseph Kony, for decades unleashed terror in Uganda’s northern region, where its rebellion has displaced nearly 2 million people from their homes.
Thousands of civilians died in the conflict, while thousands of children were abducted and forced to fight or serve as sex slaves.
The International Criminal Court in 2005 issued arrest warrants for five LRA leaders, including Kony, for trial for murder, torture, rape, abductions and the drafting of children in warfare.
The Ugandan government and the rebels entered into talks to end the war in the middle of 2006, but the rebels have refused to sign the final peace treaty this year.
They insist that The Hague-based court should first withdraw its indictments.