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Congolese kill 800 ‘witches’

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KAMPALA, Uganda — People in northeastern Congo have killed more than 800 suspected witches they blame for diseases in the remote, heavily forested area, a state-run Ugandan newspaper reported Thursday.

Ugandan army commander Maj. Gen. Odongo Jeje confirmed that killings had taken place in Congo's Ituri province, where the army is nominally in control, but declined to say how many.

The New Vision newspaper quoted the Ugandan military commander in Aru, Lt. Col. Fenekasi Mugenyi, as saying 800 people had been killed as of July 8.

Residents of Aru, 50 miles south of Sudan, began killing people suspected of witchcraft in mid-June, but the killings have been stopped by Ugandan forces, Jeje said Thursday.

"I have just contacted the officers there and the situation is calm. Nobody will give you the exact figure because nobody has gone to the villages to count the bodies; there are estimates," Jeje said.

Ugandan army officials had said a week ago that villagers had hacked to death about 200 suspected witches in the area.

A senior military officer told The Associated Press last week that Ugandan forces were being withdrawn from Ituri in keeping with the Congolese peace process, which requires all foreign forces to withdraw from Congo.

Uganda and Rwanda entered Congo in August 1998 to back rebels opposed to then Congolese President Laurent Kabila. The rebels accused him of ethnic warmongering and Ugandan and Rwanda accused him of backing rebels using Congo to launch attacks on those countries.

Reports from the area, where there are few roads, no regular telephones or electricity, are difficult to confirm. The area, which borders northwestern Uganda and southern Sudan, is also home to 74,000 Sudanese refugees, according to the U.N. refugee agency.

The area was once a rich agricultural zone, but a series of rebellions have left communities destroyed since the 1960s.

The war that began three years ago has made matters worse. Villagers have often targeted those displaced by the war. Drugs are also less available to treat diseases endemic to the area.