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UN Congo force put on alert against LRA rebel threat

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KINSHASA, Dec 18 (Reuters) - The U.N. peacekeeping force in Congo has put its soldiers on high alert after reports that Ugandan rebels are threatening to carry out mass killings of the kind they conducted last Christmas, a spokesman said on Friday.

Ugandan Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebels, who murdered over 800 civilians around Christmas and early January last year, have threatened a fresh wave of attacks despite a year of multi-national military operations against them, analysts warn.

"We are taking things seriously," said Kevin Kennedy, head of public information for the U.N.'s Congo peacekeeping mission. Kennedy said information about the threats by the rebels had been passed on by aid workers in recent days and weeks.

The U.N. has Moroccan, Indonesian and Bangladeshi soldiers in and around Dungu, a town in Congo's remote northeast, near the border with Sudan and the Central African Republic (CAR), where the wave of killings took place last year.

"We know there is concern among the population ... the force commander has asked troops to be on high alert," he added.

The U.N. force, which is also trying to help Congo's army battle a string of rebels and militia in separate conflicts in Congo's far east and northwest, has been criticised for not doing enough to protect civilians from attacks by the LRA.

Government troops from Uganda, where the LRA waged a two decade-long insurgency until rebasing to Congo in 2005, led a multinational strike against the rebels in December 2008.

Although training camps were broken up and some fighters have been disarmed, the rebels, whose leadership is wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court, have continued to carry out attacks on civilians in Congo, Sudan and the CAR.

"The LRA might be planning fresh Christmas attacks as a response to recent claims by the Congolese and Ugandan governments that the rebels are finished," U.S.-based advocacy group Enough Project warned in a statement on Thursday.

Enough said residents in the villages of Bangadi and Niangara, as well as local and international relief organisations, reported having seen letters from the rebels threatening mass killings over Christmas.

(Reporting by Thomas Hubert; writing by David Lewis; editing by Andrew Roche)

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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