March 28, 2010 / 12:36 PM / 10 years ago

Troops, cash needed to fight Uganda rebels-group

* Rights group wants phone network and radio stations

* Says U.N. member countries should send in elite military

* U.N. says has not got enough troops, asked to withdraw

By Katrina Manson

KINSHASA, March 28 (Reuters) - The United Nations must boost peacekeeping forces in areas of Africa where Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels operate to stop massacres such as one that killed more than 300 people in December, a rights group said.

The Ugandan rebel group has killed and abducted people on a regular basis for the last 23 years, from Uganda, Sudan, Central African Republic and Democratic Republic of Congo, Human Rights Watch noted in a report.

It said the United Nations has fewer than 1,000 peacekeepers in this vast and and often impenetrable areas where the rebels mount their attacks.

The U.N. says the LRA killed more than 1,200 people in a 10-month period throughout 2008 and 2009, while the rights group puts the death toll in a massacre previously unreported in the remote northeast last December at 321.

“The four-day rampage demonstrates that the LRA remains a serious threat to civilians and is not a spent force, as the Ugandan and Congolese governments claim,” Anneke Van Woudenberg, a senior researcher at HRW, said.

HRW also wants the Congolese government to work with mobile phone companies to bring network coverage to the area.

One witness cycled 60 km (40 miles) to find a telephone to inform the U.N. of the massacre, and villages that were subsequently attacked knew nothing of nearby attacks.

Other recommendations in its report charting LRA atrocities, released late on Saturday, include donor funding for a comprehensive strategy, better coordination, community radio, helicopter support and deploying elite military groups.

“High-level attention, bold steps and courageous leadership are necessary to develop and implement a comprehensive regional strategy that resolves the LRA threat,” said the report, which said one source of hope comes from the U.S. government.

The U.S. military’s African Command (Africom) provides communications, logistical and intelligence support for Uganda’s national army in its pursuit of the LRA, and the U.S. is considering legislation to ensure a strategy to catch the LRA leadership.

“The number of peacekeepers we have on the ground is already not enough to cover Congo, but it’s not only about blue helmets — we need more cooperation among the three countries in the fight against the LRA,” a spokesman for the U.N. mission, known as MONUC, said.

Editing by Daniel Magnowski and Michael Roddy

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