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Congo Massacre: African Nations Deploy Troops

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KAMPALA, Uganda -- Three African nations are deploying troops to remote eastern Congo after reports that Ugandan rebels killed more than 400 people in a series of massacres since Christmas, officials said Wednesday.

A Catholic charity, Caritas, cited reports by its staff in the region that the Ugandan rebel Lord's Resistance Army has killed hundreds of people since Dec. 25. The rebels and the Ugandan government have accused each other of being behind recent attacks in the remote area of Congo, where the rebels have bases.

"We have deployed troops in most of the villages we suspect that can be attacked by LRA rebels," said Ugandan Capt. Chris Magezi. He is a spokesman for the coordinated forces of Uganda, Congo and southern Sudan, who launched an offensive this month to root out the rebels.

"We will guard civilians settlements, while another force pursues the rebels," Magezi said.

Rebel spokesman David Matsanga denied responsibility for the attacks, saying the Ugandan army blamed the Lord's Resistance Army to galvanize international support to fight the rebels.

The 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 Lord's Resistance Army rebels of cutting off the lips of civilians and forcing thousands of children to serve as soldiers or sex slaves. The conflict has spilled out of northern Uganda and into Sudan and Congo.

Caritas' allegations are the latest reports of attacks in the area near where the offensive has been taking place.

On Monday, officials and witnesses said attackers had hacked to death scores of people who sought refuge at a Catholic church the day after Christmas. The United Nations said the rebels had killed a total of 189 people in three villages in the area on two recent days.

Congo suffered back-to-back civil wars from 1996 to 2002 that drew in neighboring countries in what became a rush to plunder Congo's massive mineral wealth.

Currently, long-running peace talks between the Lord's Resistance Army and the Ugandan government have stalled. Rebel leaders have sought guarantees they will not be arrested under international warrants. 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.

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Associated Press Writer Tom Odula contributed to this report from Nairobi, Kenya.