Reports Say Uganda Rebels Kill 18, Threaten Clergy

Ugandan rebels killed 18 people in the northern district of Apac, media reports said on Monday, and missionaries said rebel leader Joseph Kony had ordered the killing of clergy and the destruction of missions.

Ugandan media said rebels of Kony's Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) had killed 18 people on Sunday, including a six-year-old boy in the Apac district about 125 miles north of Kampala. The reports could not immediately be confirmed.

The LRA, feared for its practice of maiming villagers and abducting children for use as soldiers and sex slaves, is engaged in a 17-year insurgency against the government.

One missionary leader said the rebel group was stepping up attacks on church personnel and property.

"Last week in a radio communication with his commanders he was heard ordering the killing of Catholic priests and nuns," Father Carlos Rodriguez told Reuters by telephone from the northern district of Gulu.

Rodriguez said the message had been intercepted because Kony, a self-styled prophet who wants to found a state based on the biblical 10 commandments, was using radio equipment stolen from church missions which use specific frequencies.

"We have no reason to doubt the message was authentic," Rodriguez said. "In the last five weeks LRA has burned, bombed and desecrated churches on nine occasions."

Rodriguez said the rebel chief is carrying out the attacks because some junior LRA commanders had deserted during recent peace meetings with church officials.

"We live among the people and we are taking as many precautions as we can, but how safe are we if the LRA is killing children?" he said.

Army spokesman Major Shaban Bantariza said the army was aware of the threat. "This is not the first time, and we warned the church about it," he said.

A year-long offensive against the rebels has flushed them out of their camps in southern Sudan and back into Uganda. The government has sent in more than 14,000 troops backed by tanks, helicopters and artillery.