DAKAR, SENEGAL — Ugandan rebels in eastern Congo have slaughtered at least 620 people in the last month, and civilians in the region desperately need protection, human rights groups said Saturday.
Human Rights Watch said many of the attacks by the Lord's Resistance Army appeared to have been premeditated, and victims' skulls were crushed with bats and axes.
Researchers with the New York-based group gathered testimony and evidence on a two-week mission to the region with staff from the Congolese rights group Justice Plus.
They said that in one attack on Christmas Day in the village of Batande, rebels slaughtered the men and boys with blows to the head and raped women and girls in a nearby forest before killing them by crushing their skulls. About 80 people were killed, they said.
"One of the few survivors, a 72-year-old man who arrived late for Christmas lunch, hid in the bushes and watched in horror as his wife, children and grandchildren were killed," Human Rights Watch said. The man said only six people survived.
After the massacre, the rebels "ate the Christmas feast the villagers had prepared, and then slept among the dead bodies before continuing on their trail of destruction and death" through 12 more villages.
In Faradje, about 150 miles from Batande, another group of rebels killed 143 people in a similar attack. They also abducted 160 children and 20 adults, tying them together and forcing them to carry looted goods. They also burned 940 houses, three primary schools and nine churches.
There were simultaneous Christmas attacks on several northeastern Congo villages near the Sudan border, Human Rights Watch said. It said the attacks are continuing, including the slaying of 86 people in three towns between Jan. 8 and 11.
"Hundreds of people have been slaughtered and this just goes on," said Joel Bisubu of Justice Plus. "We need food and medical supplies for the injured, but even more, we need protection."
The Catholic charity Caritas has said that more than 400 people have been killed and the United Nations has estimated the toll at 500.
The Lord's Resistance Army has fought in northern Uganda for two decades, and rights groups have accused it of cutting off the lips of civilians and forcing thousands of children to serve as soldiers or sex slaves. The conflict has spilled into Sudan and Congo.