New York - The United Nations has ordered 900 peacekeepers to a remote region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, to head off feared Christmas attacks by Lord's Resistance Army fighters, a spokesperson said on Tuesday.
UN forces will go to a region where the LRA killed more than 1 000 adults and children around Christmas in 2008 and 2009 and kidnapped hundreds more.
The UN mission in DR Congo is also sending extra humanitarian supplies to the region, UN spokesperson Martin Nesirky told reporters.
A special operation against the LRA has been launched in the Dungu district of Upper Uele region and would carry on until mid-January because of fears of the “holiday season” attacks, Nesirky said.
The announcement came after the UN Security Council called for greater international action against the LRA, which is led by Joseph Kony who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The LRA sprang out of a rebellion in Uganda in the 1980s but now terrorises communities in Central African Republic, southern Sudan and DR Congo.
The Security Council welcomed an African Union move to set up a joint task force to fight the LRA and deploy joint border patrols.
“It calls for the countries of the region to enhance co-ordination and information sharing regarding the the threat posed by the LRA,” said a Security Council statement on efforts to bring peace to Central African Republic.
Ugandan special forces currently lead the international hunt for Kony, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
In December 2008, LRA fighters killed 865 men, women and children in the north-eastern DR Congo and in southern Sudan, and kidnapped hundreds of others.
A year later 300 people were murdered between December 14 and 17, also in north-east DR Congo.
The United States has promised to support a new effort to catch Kony and halt the conflict generated by the LRA, but in a report titled “Ghosts of Christmas Past”, 19 aid agencies said the Security Council should do more.
The report said LRA attacks remote communities in Sudan, Central African Republic and DR Congo almost four times a week.
“These communities await Christmas with fear,” added the groups, who include Oxfam, Christian Aid, Refugees International, World Vision and War Child UK, among others.
The UN refugee agency said in October that the rebels had killed 2 000 people since December 2008, kidnapped more than 2 600 and displaced more than 400 000 in DR Congo, the Central African Republic and southern Sudan.
“The acute suffering and mass population displacement the LRA has generated across international borders is undermining stability in an already fragile region, where southern Sudan is preparing to hold a landmark referendum on secession in early 2011,” the report said.
The aid groups welcomed recent steps by the United States and the African Union. But it said kidnapped people had to be helped to return home and villages had to be protected.
The aid groups called on the UN Security Council to set up an expert panel as “there is a chronic lack of information about the motivation, composition and location of the LRA”.
The LRA began their rebellion in northern Uganda in the late 1980s, but have not carried out an attack there since 2006.
Since south Sudanese-hosted peace talks broke down in 2008, the fighters have roamed the jungles of central Africa and been repeatedly blamed for the slaughter of defenceless civilians.
The African Union has said the LRA should be called “terrorists” rather than rebels. - Sapa-AFP