Army rescues 80 LRA abductees

An estimated 700 Ugandan soldiers rescued some 80 civilians who were captured by the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in a weekend attack on a market in northern Uganda, according to a Ugandan army official.

"The UPDF [Uganda People's Defence Force] pursued the rebels 10 or 20 kilometres inside the Sudan, freed 80 civilians, and have now returned to Uganda," the army spokesman, Maj Shaban Bantariza, told IRIN on Thursday.

About 300 LRA rebels on Saturday 23 February attacked a local defence unit detachment in the Agoro Market area of Lamwo County, Kitgum District, and kidnapped around 100 people - mostly men between 15 and 25 years of age. Four people, two civilians and two soldiers, were reportedly killed in the attack.

Bantariza confirmed reports that the LRA leader, Joseph Kony, had been involved in the incident, and claimed Kony's presence indicated the rebel group was now in desperate need of reinforcements. "The whole of last year they were not able to make any incursions into the north and have become desperate. The weekend incident was a kind of suicide attack," Bantariza said.

The US in December included the LRA - as well as the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) operating in western and southwestern Uganda - on its "Terrorist Exclusion List" under the US Patriot Act.

"They are now on the terrorist list. They know the United States, Sudan, and everyone else is against them," Bantariza said.

Kony has led the LRA in its guerrilla-style war against Ugandan government forces and the civilian population of northern Uganda since the late 1980s. Operating from bases in southern Sudan, and supported until recently by Sudan, it has waged a campaign of terror - brutalising, killing, and looting, destroying homes, and abducting people, particularly children, to act as fighters, sex slaves and porters for looted goods.

However, it has become increasingly isolated in recent months, following the improvement of Ugandan-Sudanese diplomatic relations, as well as the Sudanese government's announcement last year that it had ended its support for the rebel group.

According to Bantariza, the Ugandan army has been cooperating with Sudanese authorities to facilitate the pursuit of LRA rebels inside Sudan following incidents such as the one at the Agoro Market. "We are in contact with Sudan. We are cooperating with Sudan," he said.