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Rebels abduct Kitgum Bishop from church compound

Country Map - Uganda (Gulu, Kitgum and Pader Districts)
Uganda's Gulu, Kitgum and Pader districts which have borne the brunt of the war. (IRIN)

Rebels of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) on Wednesday abducted an Anglican Bishop and 11 other people in the northern town of Kitgum, 460 km north of the capital, Kampala, in an attack on a church compound, the Ugandan army spokesman said.

Bishop Benjamin Ojwang, however, escaped unhurt after four hours in captivity when the army engaged the rebels, Maj Shaban Bantariza told IRIN. "A group of rebels attacked the church [house], harassed the bishop, then left with him after looting household property and nine goats," the spokesman said.

Meanwhile, 77 LRA fighters on Tuesday voluntarily surrendered to the army. Father Carlos Rodriguez, a Roman Catholic priest in the northern town of Gulu, told IRIN by telephone: "Over 70 rebels went to Pajule trading centre in Pader District and asked the people there to escort them to the military barracks nearby, saying they wanted to surrender."

According to Rodriguez, the emotional welcome the local people afforded the rebels was an indicator that in spite of their suffering, the local people were ready to forgive their tormentors. "The fact that people were able to escort them while singing to the barracks moves one to tears and indicates that in spite of their suffering, the people have not lost their humanity, and are ready to forgive," he said.

Lt Paddy Ankunda, the army spokesman based in northern Uganda, said the returnees had been taken to Lira town on army trucks. "They will be helped. Those who want to go home will go home," he said.

News of the surrender followed the army's earlier claim on Tuesday to have killed the LRA's "director of operations", Onen Kamudule, an event described by Bantariza as a "big blow" to the rebels, saying that Kamudule had given the government army "a lot of problems".

The rebels had on Monday killed seven people in Pader and Kitgum districts when they ambushed a truck at Porogali village in Acholi-bur sub-county in Pader District. Two other people died when the rebels ambushed a pick-up in Mucwini sub-county, Chua county in Kitgum District, on the same day.

In a related development, the Ugandan army deployed in southern Sudan on Monday evening used a helicopter gunship to raid a group of about 250 LRA rebels carrying food, killing 54 of them, about 60 km inside Sudan, Bantariza said.

This is the largest number of rebel casualties killed inside southern Sudan ever since the army was deployed there in 2002 to pursue the LRA. The fighting took place near Magwe [in Eastern Equatoria], on the main road to Al-Jabalayn, and surviving LRA rebels scattered.

"At around 5:00 p.m. [1400 GMT] on Monday, our reconnaissance units spotted a group headed by rebel commanders Odhiambo and [Alex Otti] Lagony. We called in the helicopter gunship and managed to put out of action 54 of them, whose bodies our ground forces counted," Bantariza told IRIN by telephone.

The Khartoum government, which had long been accused of harbouring and arming the rebel group, has authorised Ugandan forces to conduct operations in parts of southern Sudan.

The LRA has waged war against the government for 18 years, frequently attacking villages and trading centres, murdering or torturing civilians and abducting scores of children for forcible recruitment as soldiers, porters or sex slaves. At least 1.6 million people have been displaced in the northern and eastern regions.

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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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