KAMPALA, Uganda – Scores of rebels armed with assault rifles, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades attacked a refugee camp in northern Uganda (search) and torched huts, killing 192 people and wounding dozens more, a local legislator said Sunday.
Saturday evening's attack on Barloonyo camp in Lira district was one of the worst in recent years by the Lord's Resistance Army (search), a shadowy rebel group that has been fighting the Ugandan government for 17 years.
As the insurgents surrounded the camp from three sides, many people ran to their mud-and-grass huts instead of trying to escape, and were burned to death when the insurgents set fire to the homes, legislator Charles Anjiro said.
"It's a hopeless situation, we went there this morning with the Lira district police commander and physically counted 192 bodies," Anjiro told The Associated Press by telephone from Lira town, 16 miles south of the camp. "The scene is terrible."
Dr. Jane Aceng, head of Lira hospital (search), said 56 people were taken to the hospital with burns and shrapnel and gunshot wounds.
The camp was home to about 5,000 people displaced by the insurgency, which has forced more than 1 million people to flee their homes.
The camp was being guarded by members of a local defense force, who were outnumbered and outgunned, Army spokesman Maj. Shaban Bantariza said, confirming the attack.
It was not possible to contact the Lord's Resistance Army, which is led by Joseph Kony, who claims to have spiritual powers. Estimates of the group's size range from hundreds to a few thousand.
After the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States, President Bush put the group, which rarely makes contact with the outside world, on a list of organizations suspected of having links to terrorism.
Anjiro said the rebels were armed with "sophisticated guns ... and grenades" when they attacked the camp at about 5:30 p.m. from the north, south and east. The western side was used for their exit.
"They bombed the camp ... and overpowered the local defense forces and then started burning the huts," Anjiro said.
The Rev. Sebhat Ayele, who visited the camp Sunday, said from Lira, "I saw one hut with seven family members still burning and three [people] in the next hut were also still burning."
Lira is 155 miles north of Kampala.
An army spokesman in the region, 2nd Lt. Chris Magezi, said government forces were pursuing the rebels.
Magezi, also speaking from Lira, could not confirm the death toll but said the attack appeared to be one of the worst rebel assaults in recent years. In 1995, the rebels rounded up more than 300 villagers in Gulu district and killed them, he said.
The Lord's Resistance Army, which has wreaked havoc across Uganda's north and northeast, rose from the remnants of a revolt by soldiers from the Acholi tribe after President Yoweri Museveni, a southerner, seized power in 1986 after leading a five-year bush war. The Acholi tribe is the dominant one in northern Uganda.
Most of the rebels had given up by 1988, but those who did not coalesced into Lord's Resistance Army.
The group replenishes its ranks with children it kidnaps to serve as fighters, porters or concubines.
The rebels used to launch attacks into northern Uganda from neighboring Sudan, mainly raiding villages and attacking military posts. But in March 2002, the Sudanese government — which Museveni accused of supporting the insurgents — agreed to allow Ugandan troops to cross the border to destroy rebel bases in "Operation Iron Fist."
The operation drove the rebels into northern Uganda, where they renewed their attacks on villages and camps, looting, killing and forcing thousands of children to flee to the safety of towns each night. The insurgency spread last year to Uganda's east.
The government attempted to hold peace talks with the rebels last year, but the insurgents, who claim they are defending the interests of the Acholi, refused to gather in government-designated areas, so the talks never occurred.
Museveni, who regularly vows to crush the rebellion, often goes to northern Uganda to lead military operations.