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Scores of people are killed in Congo massacre

Uganda's army and rebels traded blame in the attack, which took place in a remote area.

KAMPALA, Uganda - Attackers hacked to death scores of people who sought refuge at a Catholic church in remote eastern Congo the day after Christmas, officials and witnesses said yesterday, and the Ugandan army and a rebel group accused each other of carrying out the massacre.

Survivors and witnesses said the killings occurred close to Congo's border with Sudan, not far from where the armies of those two countries and Uganda began an offensive this month to root out the rebel Lord's Resistance Army, according to a Ugandan army spokesman, Capt. Chris Magezi.

U.N. spokesman Ivo Brandau said that 120 homes were set ablaze in the area and that thousands of people had fled for fear of further attacks.

The Lord's Resistance Army 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 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.

"The scene at the church was unbelievable. It was horrendous. On the floor were dead bodies of mostly women and children cut in pieces," Magezi told the Associated Press. He blamed the Lord's Resistance Army for the massacre and quoted witnesses as saying the rebels used machetes, clubs and swords.

The rebels denied responsibility, with a spokesman, David Matsanga, saying the Lord's Resistance Army had no fighters in the area and accusing Uganda's army of the killings.

Witness Abel Longi said he recognized the rebels by their dreadlocked hair, their Acholi language, and the number of young boys among them. "I hid in bush near the church and heard people wailing as they were being cut with machetes," Longi told AP in a phone call from the village of Doruma, where the church is located. He owns a shop there.

Death-toll estimates varied, in part because the area is so remote. The Congolese military put the number at 120 to 150; Magezi said 45 civilians were killed. The United Nations said the rebels killed 189 people in three villages over two days, 89 of them at Doruma.

The rebels may have been retaliating against civilians for military attacks, including a Dec. 14 air bombing on their main camp. Rebel spokesman Matsanga said Uganda's 105th Battalion was responsible for the massacre.

"They were airlifted to Congo to kill civilians and then say we are responsible," he charged. "They want to justify their stay in DRC [Democratic Republic of Congo] and loot minerals from there like they did before."

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 huge mineral wealth.

Somalia's Leader Resigns

Somalia's president

resigned yesterday after a four-year term in which his Western- backed government failed to extend its power throughout a country crippled by infighting and a rising Islamic insurgency.

Abdullahi Yusuf's

resignation, which comes amid deepening international pressure, could usher in more chaos as Islamic militants scramble for power - even though the government controls only pockets of the capital, Mogadishu, and the seat of parliament in Baidoa.

Somalia has been beset

by two decades of anarchy, violence and an insurgency that has killed thousands of civilians and sent hundreds of thousands fleeing.

Yusuf is leaving Somalia

much as he found it. But now, insurgents are in control of most of the country, prompting fears

it could become a haven for extremists.

The parliament speaker

will be acting president until a leader is elected within 30 days. There has been no word of who might be under consideration, but many believe Yusuf's absence will allow moderate Islamist leaders into the government.

- Associated Press