KAMPALA, Uganda — Attackers hacked to death scores of people who sought refuge at a Catholic church in remote eastern Congo the day after Christmas, officials and witnesses said Monday, and the Ugandan army and a rebel group accused each other of carrying out the massacre.
Survivors and witnesses said the killings occurred close to Congo's border with Sudan, near to where the armies of those two countries and Uganda began an offensive this month to root out the rebel Lord's Resistance Army, according to a Ugandan army spokesman, Capt. Chris Magezi.
The Lord's Resistance Army rebel group has waged one of Africa's longest and most brutal wars for the last two decades. In the past, aid and rights groups have accused the rebels of cutting off the lips of civilians and forcing thousands of children to serve as soldiers or sex slaves.
"The scene at the church was unbelievable. … On the floor were dead bodies of mostly women and children cut in pieces," Magezi said. He blamed the Lord's Resistance Army for the massacre.
The rebels denied responsibility, with their spokesman David Matsanga saying the Lord's Resistance Army had no fighters in the area and accusing Uganda's army of the killings.
But witness Abel Longi said he recognized the rebels by their dreadlocked hair, their Acholi language and the number of young boys among them.
Death toll estimates varied, in part because the area is so remote. The United Nations said the rebels killed 189 people in three villages over two days, U.N. spokesman Ivo Brandau said.
Long-running peace talks between the Lord's Resistance Army and the Ugandan government have stalled. The rebels' elusive leader, Joseph Kony, and other top members are wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague for war crimes and crimes against humanity.