UN official: Botched attacks on LRA rebels in Congo 'catastrophic' for civilians

The US helped plan the operation, which subsequently killed up to 900 people.

A top UN official said Tuesday that the recent US-backed military attack on Ugandan rebels had been "catastrophic" for Congolese civilians, according to media reports.

At least 900 civilians were killed in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo by small groups from the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) as they fled a joint military offensive launched Dec. 14 by Uganda with help from the Congolese military. (See a BBC map of LRA bases and attacks here.)

The UN official's comments followed a New York Times report Friday breaking the news that the US had helped plan and fund the attack from its new Africa Command.

The BBC reported that John Holmes, the UN's humanitarian chief, made the comments while visiting Doruma, a city in northeast Congo near the scene of the atrocities.

But BBC and Reuters also quoted Mr. Holmes as saying that the offensive should continue against the LRA, a rebel group known for its brutal attacks against civilians and its abduction of children to use as child soldiers or sex slaves.

Reuters reports that some 13,000 civilians had fled their homes for Doruma, and that the UN had reported that 700 people – including 540 children – had been abducted by the LRA "to become fighters, porters, or sex slaves."

On Friday The New York Times reported that the US had paid for and helped plan the botched attack on the LRA.

Uganda and its neighbors had lost patience with the LRA for failing to sign a peace deal and were looking to wipe out or cripple the group via military means.

But the raid "went awry," the newspaper reports, and "the rebel leaders escaped, breaking their fighters into small groups that continue to ransack town after town in northeastern Congo, hacking, burning, shooting, and clubbing to death anyone in their way."

The New York Times detailed the extent of US involvement, citing US military officials.

Despite criticisms of the horrific consequences of the botched raid, a US official denied responsibility.

UN News reported that 40,000 civilians have also been displaced in south Sudan by LRA attacks. It said that the LRA was relatively restrained as long as peace talks were on.

The news agency Afrol News said that 100 civilians had been massacred early this month in the most recent attack. It reported that the International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for the LRA's leader, Joseph Kony. He has refused to sign a peace deal with the government until the warrant is withdrawn.

The Associated Press reported that the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo has not been effective at preventing the LRA to spread terror at will.

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