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14 December - The United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) voiced concern today at the possibility of renewed attacks on civilians by the brutal Ugandan rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) over the upcoming holiday season.

The mission, known as MONUSCO, has already deployed troops as a preventive measure in Orientale Province ahead of the end-of-year holiday season, which has in the past seen increased attacks by the LRA, including a Christmas Day massacre of nearly 500 people in 2008.

It said today that it is working with aid groups to facilitate delivery of humanitarian assistance in north-eastern DRC, but it added that a broader approach is needed to deal with the threat posed by the LRA in the country and the region at large, welcoming the call by the African Union for a joint mechanism in the region to help further the fight against the group.

When it announced the troop deployments at the beginning of the month, MONUSCO noted that minor LRA attacks had already been reported from Nambia and Duru districts.

In a devastating wave of synchronized attacks over a period of 24 hours on Christmas Day 2008, in two clusters of locations in the DRC some 400 kilometres apart, two groups of between 100 and 150 LRA fighters killed at least 477 civilians and abducted hundreds of others.

Since late 2007 the LRA is estimated to have killed more than 1,800 people, abducted 2,400 and displaced some 230,000 others in dozens of attacks on towns and villages in Orientale province, involving mutilations, torture and multiple rapes. Women and girls were often raped before being killed, and many of those who were abducted were forced to marry LRA members, subjected to sexual slavery, or both.

The LRA was formed in the late 1980s in Uganda and for over 15 years its attacks were mainly directed against Ugandan civilians and security forces, which in 2002 dislodged the rebels. They then exported their rampage to Uganda's neighbours. The Christmas massacre followed a UN-supported joint military offensive against them involving Congolese, Ugandan and Sudanese troops.

Since 1999 and under various names, the UN mission in DRC, with over 19,000 uniformed personnel on the ground, has overseen the vast country's emergence from years of civil war and factional chaos, culminating most notably in 2006 with the first democratic elections in over four decades. But fighting has continued in the east, where the bulk of UN forces are deployed.