Nairobi, Kenya (CNSNews.com) - The U.S. has voiced its support for the Ugandan government's campaign to defeat a violent rebel group led by an eccentric man who kidnaps children and says he is directed by spirits of the dead.
At a meeting last week between President Bush and his visiting Ugandan counterpart, Yoweri Museveni, the U.S. pledged $200,000 worth of military aid to help in the war against the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA).
The rag-tag rebel movement, operating from southern Sudan and inside northern Uganda, recently has increased its attacks against civilians.
Its leader, Joseph Kony, says he wants to establish a state based on the Ten Commandments, and has been waging a war against the government in Kampala for 17 years.
Museveni recently admitted that his bid to defeat the LRA has not succeeded, and he blamed the failure on reduced military spending.
The army did not have enough helicopters and armored cars, he said.
Uganda cut back on its troop strength and military spending in 1991 under
demands from international donors, which provide 50 percent of the East African nation's budget.
"The problem is that donors have been holding us back from acquiring [helicopters and armored cars]," Museveni told the government-owned New Vision daily.
"This type of war, where the rebels target civilians, needs either very many soldiers or these force multipliers."
Since April, the LRA has abducted hundreds of civilians and killed hundreds more, according to the government.
On Tuesday, it abducted around 100 girls from a Catholic-run school in northern Uganda, army spokesman Major Shaban Bantariza reported.
A week before that, rebels attacked a Catholic orphanage near the Sudan border, and captured 20 children.
Over the years of the insurgency, testimonies from children who have managed to escape from the LRA's clutches have confirmed that abducted boys are brainwashed and forced to fight for the rebels while girls are used as sex objects and concubines for rebel commanders.
In recent weeks, churches seem to have become a favored target.
Catholic missionary Father Carlos Rodriguez was quoted as saying LRA leader Kony had been heard in an intercepted radio communication, ordering the killing of Catholic priests and nuns.
"We have no reason to doubt the message was authentic," Rodriguez said, adding that Catholic institutions had been attacked nine times in the past five weeks.
Rodriguez said Kony was angry with the church because some junior LRA commanders had deserted his movement during recent peace meetings with church officials. He blamed Catholics for the defections.
Meanwhile, thousands of internally-displaced people, most of them children, have deserted their homes fearing rebel attacks, and they are now camping out in a northern town called Gulu.
Religious leaders there said they spent a night last weekend with the refugees in a show of solidarity.
Regional leaders in the north issued a statement calling on the U.N. Security Council to address the conflict and ensure that rules requiring protection of civilians are respected.
Kony is a former altar boy who claims to be guided by a "committee" made up of the spirits of eight dead people.
He reportedly spends much of his time "communicating" with and receiving advice on military strategy from these spirits.
Despite his fondness for the Ten Commandments, Kony orders his fighters to show reverence to rivers, trees and other natural objects associated with traditional religious practices.
The LRA is based in government-controlled areas of southern Sudan.
Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) rebels fighting the Islamist Sudanese government have accused Khartoum of supplying the LRA with intelligence and weapons.
Sudan has denied the allegations. It, in turn, accuses the Ugandan government of supporting the SPLA, which is fighting for religious, political and economic autonomy for southern Christians and animists from the Muslim north.
Sudan has given the Ugandan army permission to hunt for LRA fighters inside its territory.
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