March 28, 2010

V. Massacre in the Makombo Area

From December 14 to 17, 2009, the LRA carried out one of the most devastating single attacks in the group’s sordid history.[24] During a four-day operation in northern Congo—the Makombo area and its surroundings, in Niangara Territory, Haut Uele district, near the Sudan border—the LRA killed at least 321 civilians and abducted more than 250 others, including at least 80 children. The vast majority of those killed were adult men, but among the dead were at least 13 women and 23 children. The youngest victim was a three year-old girl; the eldest was a 72-year-old man.[25] Most of those killed were tied up before the LRA hacked them to death with machetes or crushed their skulls with axes, clubs, or heavy sticks. The victims were often deliberately taken away to be killed in the more remote forest and brush land away from village centers or roads, possibly in an attempt to cover up the crime. Some were tied to trees before their skulls were crushed with axes. Those who were abducted but walked too slowly, refused or were unable to carry the heavy loads, or who tried to escape were also killed. Bodies were later found by family members and local authorities all along the 105-kilometer round journey made by the LRA through the Makombo area and toward the small town of Tapili. According to witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch, for days and weeks after the attack, this vast area was filled with the “stench of death.”[26]

The attack was well-planned and organized. Under the leadership of at least two LRA commanders, Lt. Col. Binansio Okumu (also known as Binany)[27] and a commander known as “Obol” (see below), LRA combatants attacked a succession of villages and towns, each time posing as Ugandan or Congolese army soldiers first, then killing and looting, before taking with them large numbers of abductees tied together. The tactics used by the LRA during the Makombo operation indicate that their purpose was to kill, abduct, and pillage. The operation may in part have been to re-supply the group with new recruits and essential supplies, such as salt, sugar, batteries, and clothes. LRA combatants specifically searched out areas where people might gather—such as markets, churches, and water points—and repeatedly asked those they encountered about the location of schools, indicating that one of their objectives was to abduct children. The LRA used similar tactics in each village they attacked during their four-day rampage: they pretended to be Congolese and Ugandan army soldiers on patrol, reassured people in broken Lingala (a common language in northern Congo) not to be afraid, and, once people had gathered, captured their victims and tied them up, often in human chains of 5 to 15 people long. Then the LRA forced their captives to march off with them. Adult men who were considered to be of no use, possibly because they were more unruly and difficult to control, those who confronted them, or those who just had the misfortune of finding themselves near the end of the line were killed along the way.

Identification of the LRA

Those who witnessed the killings and those who were captured but escaped days or weeks later identified their attackers as the LRA and described them in detail to Human Rights Watch. The LRA forces altogether numbered between 25 to 40 combatants who operated in two or three separate groups, often coming together at night. Dozens of witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch consistently described the LRA as wearing either camouflage army uniforms similar to those of the Ugandan army (some with the Ugandan flag on the sleeve) or olive drab green uniforms similar to those of the Congolese army. Many of the uniforms appeared new.[28] Witnesses said the uniforms were not dirty or torn, although some were older. Some of the LRA had short razored hair, while others had long or “rasta-like” hair and had an unkempt appearance. In their attempts to pose as Ugandan and Congolese soldiers, the LRA often left behind those with long or dirty hair on village outskirts or hid their hair under hats to minimize suspicion about their true identity.[29]

Witnesses repeatedly told Human Rights Watch that the LRA spoke poor Lingala with a strong accent, which they recognized as foreign.[30] The LRA also spoke a mixture of other languages including Swahili, English, French, Zande and other Ugandan languages which the local population did not understand.[31]

Known LRA commanders were present during the attack on Makombo, providing clear indications that the assailants were the LRA.[32] For example, dozens of witnesses described one LRA commander, known as “Obol” who operated as a senior leader during the operation and was easily identifiable, as he was missing one eye, was very tall, and appeared well over 60 years old. (See below for further information.)[33] In the weeks following the Makombo massacre, the LRA combatants, together with their captives, joined other LRA forces at what was likely a pre-arranged meeting point near where the Kapili and Uele Rivers meet.[34] According to abductees who later escaped, Gen. Dominic Ongwen, one of the top three leaders of the LRA, sought on an arrest warrant from the ICC, was present at this meeting.

The tactics documented in this report are typical LRA tactics used in northern Uganda, southern Sudan and in Congo over many previous years.

Day One: The Attack Begins

Since 2008, when the LRA first began to attack Congolese civilians, the LRA had rarely ventured south of the Uele River, a major waterway that cuts through Haut Uele district. As a result, the communities who live south of the river suffered less from LRA attacks than those to the north, and few had organized local self-defense groups, as had those in the north. On December 13, 2009, this changed. A group estimated at between 25 to 40 LRA combatants quietly arrived on the northern bank of the Uele River, just across from the Makombo area, a small fishing and farming region of around 700 inhabitants. Early in the morning on December 14, the LRA crossed the river at the small hamlet of Mavanzonguda and began their attack.

A 64-year-old woman preparing breakfast for her family in Bapu, a village just west of Mavanzonguda, saw the LRA approach soon after dawn. Seeing the military uniforms, she believed the strangers were soldiers from the Congolese army and called out a greeting to them in Lingala. She told Human Rights Watch:

They called back to me and asked “What’s new?” I said, “Oh nothing much.” Then they asked me, “Where do the local children study, and is there a school?” I replied that our school was not really functioning. Then they asked me, “Is there a church nearby where Christians might be praying?” I said no and that since it was not Sunday there was no one at the church. Then they asked, “Is there a market nearby where there might be lots of people?” I said, “Oh yes, there is a fishermen’s market at Mabanga Ya Talo, not too far away,” and I pointed in the market’s direction. I thought their questions were strange, and they spoke Lingala with a foreign accent.[35]

After she had answered their questions, the LRA combatants quickly turned on the elderly woman. They broke into her home, stole items they found there, and forced her to carry the looted goods. They marched her toward a local water point in the direction of the fishermen’s market at Mabanga Ya Talo, where another group of LRA combatants had already begun rounding up the local population. The elderly woman described what she saw there:

At the water point, there were many LRA and they were tying people up, including men, women, and children. They were tying them together in a line with a cord around their waists. I saw my son there and also some of my neighbors and their children. The man giving the orders was very tall and big and had only one eye. He would give orders with gestures and a shake of his head. He was very mean and was hitting people. The LRA all had weapons. There were many of us there and at one point, when they were not watching, I managed to slip away into the forest to hide. I was terrified and stayed hidden for two days. It was only days later when I went looking for my family that I discovered they had killed my son.[36]

The LRA continued on to Mabanga Ya Talo. One group of LRA combatants, including some of those who had the “rasta-like” hair, stayed behind and out of sight to guard the people they had already captured, while a second group, including LRA combatants who spoke some Lingala, entered the busy fishermen’s market. According to witnesses, the LRA pretended to be Congolese army soldiers and told people in broken Lingala they had come to protect them. They were assisted in their efforts by the president of the local fishermen’s collective, a Mr. Amokabo, who worked alongside the LRA and told people not to be afraid.[37] A few days earlier, Amokabo had informed local residents that the Congolese army was coming and had urged them to start collecting food rations for the soldiers.[38] The arrival of the LRA, some wearing green uniforms very similar to those of the Congolese army, therefore initially raised few suspicions.

Once in the market and surrounded by people, the LRA quickly turned on the population and began to capture and to kill. An elderly man from Mabanga Ya Talo told Human Rights Watch that his 22-year-old daughter was abducted that day, along with at least 30 other young women and girls and another 10 boys. His two sons were also abducted and killed during the attack. He later found their bodies tied to two other men; all of them had large cuts from a machete on the back of their heads.[39] Another man at Mabanga Ya Talo market saw the LRA combatants capture his brother and uncle and then tie them up.[40]

After abducting people, the LRA continued toward Makombo village some eight kilometers away. En route, they began to kill the adult men they had captured. Dozens of victims were later found with their hands tied and their skulls crushed either by an axe, large wooden sticks, or by machete. The witness from Mabanga Ya Talo who had seen his brother and uncle abducted hid in the forest for two days. When he emerged from his hiding place he found a trail of death. He said:

[When I came out] on Wednesday [December 16], I found bodies everywhere, all along the road..., including those of my older brother and uncle. I buried 22 bodies that day, between one and six kilometers from Mabanga Ya Talo. I saw at least another 40 bodies that I didn’t have time to bury because I was scared and wanted to get to Niangara. Some of the victims were tied together in groups of three or four. They were all killed with four blows of the axe on the back of the head... Some of the bodies had pieces of wood stuck in the side or the chest. Some of the bodies were on the road; others were 10 meters off the road.[41]     

At least 10 men were tied to trees in the forest in small groups of two or three, a short distance from the road. Their skulls were crushed with the blows of an axe, which family members later found nearby covered in blood. Some of the men also had their throats slit and had stab wounds on their stomachs and chests.[42] Among the dead tied to a tree was the 37-year-old deputy chief of the area, Marco Mbale; a well-known businessman, Florentine Maraze; and a 17-year-old boy, Dieu Donne Mando Assiayagwene. Many of the others were fishermen who often worked at the Mabanga Ya Talo market. One victim, a 22-year-old man who was also tied to a tree and left for dead by the LRA, described to Human Rights Watch what happened to him:

The [LRA] came into my house and immediately tied me up. I didn’t know who they were. They first took me to the [market at the] river and there they captured other people. They pillaged everything in all the houses and then continued toward Makombo. Along the way, they killed groups of people. There were two groups of LRA:  one that was well-dressed in military uniforms and another group of combatants with long, dirty hair. I was captured by the clean-cut group. The “dirty group” was behind, and their job was to kill people. There was one commander with one eye. He was in the “dirty group,” behind me.
When we were close to Makombo, the combatants took another cord [not the one tied around my arms] and tied me to a tree. Then they struck me over the head twice with a machete and left. I stayed there all alone, tied to the tree, until Wednesday [December 16]. Finally people found me and came to untie me. I made it back to my home, but the entire village had fled. I didn’t have the strength to go anywhere, and after a week, my family came back to look for me and they were able to take me to the hospital in Niangara.[43]

When interviewed by Human Rights Watch on February 19, 2010, the young man was still recovering from the serious wounds to his head and those on his arms and shoulders caused by the cords used to tie him to the tree.

Upon their arrival in Makombo village on December 14, the LRA used similar tactics as at Mabanga Ya Talo, abducting dozens of people, including children, before they forced those they had captured to march at a quick pace toward the next village, Mangada. One woman from Makombo village told Human Rights Watch that her three children—her 12 and 13-year-old daughters and her 15-year-old son—were captured by the LRA during the attack at Makombo.[44]

On the 16-kilometer stretch between Makombo and Mangada, the LRA continued to kill adult men as well as other abductees who were either too slow or who tried to flee. Those who later buried the dead told Human Rights Watch that the largest concentration of bodies was found in the forest and brush along this stretch of road. The victims were found alone or in small groups of two or three. Many had been tied up before they were killed with blows to the head.[45]

According to witnesses, the LRA camped the night of December 14 at Mangada, guarding those they had abducted. Here too they killed more of their captives, specifically adult men. A 52-year-old man, Moponi Galaga, who watched the LRA kill his two sons and brother, bravely tried to confront the LRA. Early in the morning of December 15, he emerged from his hiding place. According to a witness who was hiding in the bushes nearby, Moponi was overcome with emotion and anger. He approached LRA leader Obol and demanded to know why they had killed his family. The LRA chief did not respond but took a large wooden stick and struck Moponi repeatedly on his head and body until he died.[46]

At Mangada the LRA also killed Mobaya Pelagi, the 30-year-old daughter of a local chief. Family members later found her body naked, with her arms and legs spread apart. It appeared she had been raped. The naked body of Danga Atinengwe, the son of a chief from Tapili, was found on top of her. Both had been hit on the head with axes and stabbed multiple times.[47]

Day Two: Attack on Tapili

Early the next day, December 15, the LRA left Mangada in the direction of Tapili, the largest village in the area about 34 kilometers away. Word had begun to spread of the LRA attack, but in an area with no telecommunication networks, the information was sketchy. At Ngiribi village people were preparing to flee when the LRA arrived. Many were quickly captured. Those who later buried the dead found dozens of bodies of adult men in the forest and brush nearby.[48] One resident told Human Rights Watch, “The LRA captured nearly everyone from this village.”[49]

As the LRA progressed rapidly on foot, community leaders in Tapili met to discuss the rumors that the LRA were approaching. They had received information about the attack on Mabanga Ya Talo, but since the fishermen’s market was some 56 kilometers away, they believed it was unlikely the LRA would arrive so quickly. The community leaders decided to verify the information and sent the administrative chief (the chef de poste), Pascal Bolongo, and a Congolese army soldier, 1st Sgt. Maj. Jon Dbere Alati, who happened to be in Tapili that day, to go and check.[50] At about 10 a.m., the two set off on a motorcycle in the direction of Mangada. But they did not return. Three kilometers out of Tapili they were ambushed by LRA combatants, who shot and killed them. The LRA stripped the soldier of his uniform and gouged out his eyes. They cut off one of Chief Bolongo’s fingers and then set fire to the motorcycle and the two bodies.[51]

Upon hearing the shots and failing to see the return of Chief Bolongo and Sergeant Alati, the population of Tapili began to flee. But the LRA were marching quickly and soon arrived in the village. Similar to the attacks on the other villages, the first LRA to arrive at Tapili pretended to be Ugandan and Congolese army soldiers carrying out a joint patrol. A group of about a dozen LRA combatants, some who spoke a bit of Lingala, attempted to assure the population they would do them no harm and gestured to people to approach them. This reassured the population. One 19-year-old student told Human Rights Watch:

They said we should not be scared, so I and a small group of others went over to them. One of them spoke Lingala and asked us questions. He wanted to know where to find batteries, where the local Catholic parish was, the name of the priest, where the school was, and if it was functioning. We answered their questions. Then they asked us to come with them to the market area, which we did. We thought they really were Congolese army soldiers.[52]

At the market, the LRA combatants began to buy goods, paying well above the asking price. This tactic reassured people further and attracted others to the market eager to make a profit. As soon as a large group had gathered, the LRA turned on the population. They quickly captured people and tied them up in human chains, specifically focusing on children. Possibly because Tapili was really a small town, much bigger than the villages the LRA had attacked the previous day, the LRA guarded those they had captured in two houses used as temporary holding areas while they pillaged houses and shops. One holding area was a small thatch house near the market; the other was a more solid concrete home about 400 meters away.[53] A 17-year-old boy captured by the LRA in Tapili told Human Rights Watch what happened to him:

I was trying to run away but they captured me. They tied me at the waist together with others. There were 14 in my chain. They hit us with their guns and told us not to scream. They spoke to us in bad Lingala, some French, and also some English. They put us in the small house near the market and made us all sit on the floor. We were packed in very tightly as there were many of us, both adults and children. There was another house they used as a prison where they also guarded people. I spent at least seven hours in the house before they forced us to leave with them.[54]

While one group of LRA abducted and pillaged in Tapili, another waited a few kilometers away with the people they had abducted from Mabanga Ya Talo and Makombo. A trader and his wife on their way to the market in Tapili came across them on the road. The trader said:

It was about noon and we came across three LRA. They first captured my wife who was ahead of me on the road and then I approached them to try to discuss her release. They were young and spoke Zande. My wife said she needed to go to the toilet and they let her go into the forest. I called after her in our local language [Mangwetu] to go and hide. They got angry when she did not return. They took me into the forest and told me to call her, but I again shouted in our local language that she should run away. They tied up my hands and my feet, threw me on the ground, began to beat me and walked on me. They cocked their gun to shoot me but I pleaded for my life. Then another LRA shouted from the road that they should come. They untied my feet, grabbed me and forced me to walk with them. On the road, about a kilometer away, we came across a big group of people who had also been captured and who were being guarded by a group of about 12 LRA. I was tied up at the waist to a group of nine other people making me the tenth in the chain. There were about 40 people who were captured like me, maybe more. They told me they had been captured at Mabanga Ya Talo and that I should not try to flee as there were LRA everywhere in the surrounding forest.[55]

As evening fell, the LRA group in Tapili moved those they had captured from the holding areas into a long line and gave each abductee goods to carry that they had pillaged from the market and other homes, including heavy bags of salt, sugar, and batteries. They forced the terrified adults and children at gunpoint to march out of Tapili back down the road toward Mabanga. According to witnesses and the abductees who later managed to escape, nearly 200 people had been captured at Tapili.[56]

About six kilometers out of Tapili, the LRA group joined up with their colleagues who had waited with the abductees from Mabanga Ya Talo and Makombo. They further divided the pillaged goods between the abductees to carry as much as possible and then diverted from the main road onto a narrow footpath in the direction of Kiliwa and back toward the Uele River. According to abductees who later managed to escape, the LRA gave the order that they would kill anyone who tried to flee or who walked too slowly. Many of the abductees could not keep up the fast pace or carry the heavy loads assigned to them. One boy witnessed the LRA kill people that night with blows to the head from an axe for walking too slowly.[57] Those who later buried the dead found a trail of bodies along the footpath that the LRA had taken.[58]

Late into the evening, about 17 kilometers away from the main road, the LRA camped for the night. According to abductees who later escaped, interviewed by Human Rights Watch, the LRA commanders and the combatants divided up the money they had stolen and the girls and young women they had abducted. The choice of girls was carried out according to hierarchy with the leader of the group, Binany (see below), having first choice, followed by a commander known as Bukwara, then Obol, and then the others. Once the girls were assigned, many were raped in front of the other abductees. One witness who had escaped the LRA later recounted to Human Rights Watch how he and the others watched as the LRA combatants raped seven girls, some as young as 11 years old.[59] 

Days Three and Four: Return to the Uele River

On December 16, the LRA group continued its journey and reached Kiliwa village, some 12 kilometers from where they had camped the previous night. The large group of abductees, many of whom were carrying heavy loads, slowed down the pace of the LRA operation. LRA combatants continued to kill civilians they met along the way and abductees who walked too slowly. One abductee recalled witnessing LRA combatants summarily execute five people in his group as they were marched towards Kiliwa. The night of December 16, the LRA camped at Kiliwa and killed a number of people in the village before moving on the next day, December 17, back toward Makombo and the Uele River.

Early on the morning of December 18, the LRA group, together with an estimated 250 abductees, crossed the Uele River at Mavanzonguda, the same place they had crossed four days earlier. Once on the opposite bank of the river, the girls and women they had captured were forced to wash the uniforms the LRA had worn throughout the four-day operation. The LRA then forcibly marched the large group of adults and children off into the remote and unpopulated savannah terrain north of the river. They left behind them a trail of death and communities devastated and traumatized by the attack.

March into the Wilderness

In the days following the river crossing, the LRA forced their captives to march about 20 kilometers a day. According to those who later escaped, the LRA separated the children from the adults and kept the children close to the commander of the group. The captives remained tied up to each other at the waist with ropes or metal wire in human chains of between 5 to 15 captives, also sleeping tied up. The LRA began to conduct military parades each morning, when the combatants paid homage to the commander, stood for military inspection, and were given their orders for the day. This daily military routine was conducted in front of the children who had been taken captive, while the adult abductees were excluded from the ceremony. The LRA also began to conduct daily counts of their captives.[60]

The 17-year-old boy abducted in Tapili and held for two weeks described his ordeal:

Each day the LRA would kill people who were too slow. They killed Pascal, who was only 12 years old, as he was tired and could no longer walk. They also killed at least two other people I knew. They split the children into a separate group from the adults. I was in the children’s group and there were about 30 boys and 50 girls. We were constantly tied up to each other, even when we slept... Each night we slept near to the LRA chief of the group who called himself ‘Captain Joseph’ [Binany]. Whenever they played music we were all obliged to dance. They said we would also be trained to be soldiers.
They counted us at the beginning and end of every day. This is how I know how many we were. When I escaped there were 186 of us.
One day, when we were crossing a small river where there was a lot of mud, seven of us tried to escape. We were tied to each other but became separated, though I was still tied up to my best friend. We hid and they didn’t find us. But they did find the other five and killed them. They included two girls who were 15 years old and three boys. I later saw their bodies. My best friend and I walked for four days to get back. We had no food the entire time. Eventually we found a village that we recognized and we were saved.[61]

Those who remained with the LRA continued to march. On around Christmas Day 2009, the LRA group together with their captives from Makombo and Tapili met up with other LRA groups near the confluence of the Uele and Kapili Rivers, in what was probably a pre-arranged meeting place. According to Ugandan military officials interviewed by Human Rights Watch and abductees who later escaped, the meeting included a number of senior LRA commanders and was led by Gen. Dominic Ongwen, a senior LRA commander wanted on an arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court.[62] The LRA commanders spent several days together, held meetings, and conducted military training of children they had taken captive. According to the abductees who later escaped, the group celebrated Christmas and the success of the attack at Makombo. The LRA commanders then divided up the new abductees and separated into multiple smaller groups, each heading in a different direction.[63]

A 16-year-old Congolese girl, held by the LRA for eight months, recalled the meeting.  She said:

The LRA group who attacked [Makombo] returned many weeks later. They were very happy. They said they had killed many people. They brought with them others they had captured from Tapili and other places, including a lot of children. It was a big group. Then there was a big celebration that a lot of other LRA commanders came to as well. We all spent Christmas together and they did military training for the children so we could learn how to shoot. I was trained as well. After a few days they divided us up again into smaller groups and we went in separate directions.[64]

Aftermath

Following the Makombo massacre, the population of the area fled. Many sought refuge in Niangara and Ndingba to the east, while others fled south to Isiro and Rungu. By January 2010, Niangara hosted a population of 11,750 internally displaced people and Rungu 14,200.[65]

In the immediate day or two after the killings, those who could find their loved ones quickly buried them before fleeing, but scores of other bodies were left behind. Between Christmas 2009 and New Year 2010, local authorities from Makombo and other residents who had fled to Niangara returned to begin the task of burying the dead.[66] Frightened that the LRA might return, the teams worked quickly over a three-day period, burying the bodies where they found them to make the task easier and also because the bodies were so badly decomposed it was difficult to move them elsewhere. Those who carried out the burials told Human Rights Watch that they buried bodies along nearly the entire 105-kilometer circular journey the LRA had taken during the attack. The largest concentration of bodies was along the 16-kilometer stretch between Makombo and Mangada. On the third day of burials, the teams heard rumors that the Congolese army was approaching. Scared that they might face problems, they halted their work and returned to Niangara. In interviews with Human Rights Watch, they said their tasks had not been completed and that they left behind bodies still unburied.[67]

A number of those who buried the dead were deeply affected by the gruesome task and the horrible deaths their family members, neighbors and friends had endured. One told Human Rights Watch, “I can still smell the stench of death on my clothes and on myself. I wash constantly but I don’t think it will ever go away. What happened to my family and friends is ingrained on my memory forever. No human being should have to die like they died. Those who did this must be punished.”[68]

Based on the interviews with those who buried the dead, including with Congolese army soldiers who assisted in burials in Mabanga Ya Talo on December 18, and in Mangada and Makombo on January 4, 2010 (see below),[69] Human Rights Watch has calculated that at least 321 people were killed by the LRA in the Makombo area and its surroundings between December 14 and 17, 2009.[70] Those left unburied have not been included in our calculations.

It is not clear how many of those captured at Makombo and Tapili were killed and how many are still with the LRA. In interviews with those who later managed to escape, Human Rights Watch received information about the deaths of at least nine abductees killed by the LRA after the Makombo massacre, once the LRA had crossed the Uele River,[71] although this information is, at best, only partial. By mid-February 2010, the Congolese army had registered 35 adults and 5 children from Makombo and Tapili who had managed to escape the LRA following their abduction. The youngest was eight years old.[72] Many others remain with the LRA.

Protection arrives too late

Congolese army soldiers based near Niangara were informed of the attack in the Makombo area on December 16, 2009. The armed forces sent soldiers to the area, but since the units were traveling on foot they arrived too late.[73] After marching for two days, a small unit of Congolese soldiers arrived at Mabanga Ya Talo on December 18, 2009, after the LRA and their captives had already crossed the Uele River.[74] Without access to boats to cross the river or communications equipment to inform their superior officers of what had happened, the Congolese army soldiers were unable to pursue the LRA. The soldiers helped to bury 17 bodies found near the market area and returned to Niangara to seek reinforcements.[75]

Ugandan soldiers based in Nambia, just north of Niangara, were also informed about the attack in the Makombo area and on December 16 sent an “intelligence squad” to the area to pursue the LRA. An official communication from the Ugandan Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence to Human Rights Watch on March 17, 2010, said Ugandan soldiers were unable to track the LRA, despite exchanges with the Congolese army about satellite coordinates for the affected area and multiple efforts to find the exact spot where the LRA had crossed the Uele River.[76] The Ugandan Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence said that the Ugandan army did not have information regarding widespread killing in the Makombo area, though they had been informed about some killings and abductions.[77] Human Rights Watch was not informed of any further attempts by the Ugandan army to uncover details about the attack or its scale (see below for further information).

At the time of the killings, MONUC had no peacekeepers in Niangara and received no information about the LRA attack until late December when they received an unconfirmed report of possibly 100 civilians dead.[78] In January the mission received a further report of 266 deaths in the Makombo area but still did not investigate.[79] MONUC officials told Human Rights Watch that due to the remoteness of the region and competing priorities, its peacekeepers did not immediately conduct detailed investigations into these killings.[80] MONUC began an investigation on March 11, 2010 following briefings from Human Rights Watch researchers about the extent of the atrocities committed by the LRA (see below).

More than two months after the massacre, very little information had surfaced about what had happened in the Makombo area. One elderly chief still grieving for his dead son said to Human Rights Watch, “We have been forgotten. It’s as if we don’t exist. The government says the LRA are no longer a problem, but I know that’s not true. I beg of you, please talk to others about what has happened to us.”[81]

[24]Other major massacres by the LRA include Lamwo, in Kitgum territory (northern Uganda), January 1994; Barlonyo displacement camp, Lira district (northern Uganda), February 21, 2004; Atiak town, Gulu district (northern Uganda), April 20; 1995; and Doruma area (DRC), December 24-29, 2008. There were also reports of killings by the LRA in the Imotong Mountains of Eastern Equatoria (southern Sudan) in June 2002 that have yet to be fully documented.

[25] Registration list of those killed by the LRA during the Makombo massacre prepared by local human rights activist, March 2010. On file at Human Rights Watch. The work of registering the dead continues.

[26]Human Rights Watch interviews with witnesses who took the route days and weeks after the massacre, Niangara, February 18 and 19, and Tapili, February 20, 2010.

[27] Lt. Col. Binansio Okumu, aka Binany. He may also be called Vincent Okumu. Witnesses also said that he referred to himself as “Captain Joseph.”

[28] Ugandan and Congolese army officers told Human Rights Watch that the LRA took uniforms from soldiers who had been killed in battle or were stolen. In some cases the LRA may have bought the uniforms. Human Rights Watch interviews, Haut Uele, February 20 and 23, 2010.

[29] Human Rights Watch interviews with 35 witnesses and victims of the Makombo massacre–including those who were captured but later escaped from the LRA, Niangara, Tapili, Bangadi, and Dungu, February 19-25, 2010.

[30] The Makombo area is largely populated by people from the Mangbetu tribe who speak both Mangbetu and Lingala.

[31] Children held by the LRA for many months, who later escaped, told Human Rights Watch that a common language used by the LRA commanders operating in Congo was Acholi, the northern Ugandan language of LRA’s original territory. A number of these children had learned to speak Acholi. Human Rights Watch interview with children who escaped the LRA, Bangadi and Dungu, February 22 and 24, 2010.

[32] LRA spokespeople frequently dismiss claims of attacks on civilians by the group, claiming that other groups pose as the LRA in order to give them a bad name. See Human Rights Watch, The Christmas Massacres, p. 46.

[33] Human Rights Watch interviews with 46 witnesses and abductees taken during the Makombo operation, Niangara and Tapili, February 19 and 20, 2010.

[34] Human Rights Watch interview with military sources, Bangadi, February 22, 2010 and former abductees, Bangadi and Dungu, February 22 and February 24, 2010.

[35] Human Rights Watch interview with woman, 64, from Bapu village, Niangara, February 19, 2010.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Human Rights Watch interviews with witnesses present at the Mabanga Ya Talo market during the attack, Niangara, February 19, 2010.

[38] Human Rights Watch interviews with witnesses present at the Mabanga Ya Talo market during the attack, Niangara, February 19, 2010.

[39] Human Rights Watch interview with elderly man present at the Mabanga Ya Talo market during the attack, Niangara, February 19, 2010.

[40] Human Rights Watch interview with witness present near Mabanga Ya Talo during the attack, Niangara, February 19, 2010.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Human Rights Watch interviews with witnesses present during the attack and those who later buried the bodies, Niangara, February 18 and 19, 2010.

[43] Human Rights Watch interview with victim, Niangara, February 19, 2010.

[44] Human Rights Watch interview with elderly woman from Makombo, Niangara, February 19, 2010.

[45] Human Rights Watch interviews with five persons who helped to bury the dead including local authorities, Niangara and Tapili, February 19 and 20, 2010.

[46] Human Rights Watch interview with witness to the Mangada killings, Niangara, February 19, 2010.

[47] Human Rights Watch interviews with a family member and those who later buried the bodies, Niangara, February 19, 2010.

[48] Human Rights Watch interviews with five persons who helped to bury the dead including local authorities, Niangara and Tapili, February 19 and 20, 2010.

[49] Human Rights Watch interview with a witness from Ngiribi village, Niangara, February 20, 2010.

[50] Human Rights Watch interviews with community leaders, Tapili, February 20, 2010.

[51] Human Rights Watch interviews with Tapili community leaders, family members, those who later saw the bodies and those who buried the dead, Niangara and Tapili, February 19 and 20, 2010.

[52] Human Rights Watch interview with abducted person who later escaped, Tapili, February 29, 2010.

[53] Human Rights Watch researchers visited Tapili and were shown both homes that had been used by the LRA to temporarily hold people, Tapili, February 20, 2010.

[54] Human Rights Watch interview with abducted person who later escaped, Tapili, February 20, 2010.

[55] Human Rights Watch interview with abducted person who later escaped, Tapili, February 20, 2010.

[56] Human Rights Watch interviews with abducted person who later escaped and civil society leaders, Tapili and Niangara, February 19 and 20, 2010.

[57] Human Rights Watch interview with abducted person who later escaped, Tapili, February 20, 2010.

[58] Human Rights Watch interview with those who buried the dead, Niangara, February 19, 2010.

[59] Human Rights Watch interview with abducted person who later escaped, Tapili, February 20, 2010.

[60] Human Rights Watch interviews with abductees who later escaped the LRA, Tapili, February 20, 2010.

[61]Human Rights Watch interview with 17-year-old abducted boy from Tapili who escaped the LRA, Tapili, February 20, 2010.

[62]Human Rights Watch interviews with 16-year-old girl held for eight months by the LRA, Bangadi, February 22, 2010, and Ugandan army officers, Haut Uele, February  2010.

[63]Human Rights Watch interview with two abductees held for months by the LRA and present at the meeting, Bangadi, and Dungu, February 22 and 24, 2010

[64]Human Rights Watch interview with 16-year-old girl held for eight months by the LRA, Bangadi, February 22, 2010.

[65] UN OCHA, Table of displacement statistics for LRA-affected areas of northeastern Congo, January 2010. On file at Human Rights Watch.

[66] Human Rights Watch interviews with five persons who helped to bury the dead including local authorities, Niangara and Tapili, February 19 and 20, 2010.

[67] Human Rights Watch interviews with five persons who helped to bury the dead including local authorities, Niangara and Tapili, February 19 and 20, 2010.

[68] Human Rights Watch interview with person who helped to bury the dead, Niangara, February 19, 2010.

[69] Congolese army soldiers assisted in the burial of 36 bodies. Of these, 17 were bodies found at Mabanga Ya Talo on December 18. A further 19 bodies were found on January 4, including three bodies found in a village near Makombo, four bodies in Makombo, three bodies at Kilometer 14 (between Tapili and Mangada), and a further nine bodies at Kilometer 18 (between Tapili and Mangada). Human Rights Watch interview, FARDC soldiers present at the burials, February 20, 2010.

[70] Human Rights Watch interviews with five persons who helped to bury the dead including local authorities; with family members who buried their loved ones; and with FARDC soldiers present at other burials, Niangara and Tapili, February 19 and 20, 2010.

[71] Human Rights Watch interviews with those who escaped the LRA, Tapili, Bangadi and Dungu, February 20, 22, and 24, 2010.

[72]List of Escapees,” registered by the FARDC, Bangadi, February 23, 2010. On file at Human Rights Watch.

[73]Human Rights Watch interviews with FARDC soldiers present at Mabanga Ya Talo, February 20, 2010. On December 16, witnesses in Niangara saw Ugandan soldiers marching through the town in the direction of Makombo and Tapili, Human Rights Watch interview with witness, Niangara, February 19 and 20, 2010.

[74]In an interview with Human Rights Watch, a FARDC officer claimed that the FARDC arrived in Mabanga Ya Talo on December 15. Human Rights Watch researchers discounted this claim since the FARDC had no vehicles, were on foot, and had to cover a distance of 62 kilometers from Niangara. The population in Mabanga Ya Talo and other villages confirmed to Human Rights Watch that the FARDC arrived on December 18, 2009. Human Rights Watch interviews, Niangara, February 19, 2010.

[75]Human Rights Watch interviews with FARDC soldiers present at Mabanga Ya Talo, February 20, 2010.

[76] Official communications between Human Rights Watch and the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence, Kampala, March 17, 2010. On file at Human Rights Watch.

[77] Ibid.

[78] Human Rights Watch interviews with MONUC officials, Dungu and Goma, February 23 and March 2, 2010.

[79] MONUC Confidential Daily Situation Report, January 26, 2010. On file at Human Rights Watch.

[80] Human Rights Watch interviews with UN officials, Dungu, February 23, and Goma, March 2, 2010.

[81] Human Rights Watch interview with a traditional chief, Niangara, February 19, 2010.