About 200 children were abducted when a brutal rebel group stormed villages either side of the border between the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo, a rights group says.
Altogether the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) has taken about 700 villagers in a series of mass abductions on both sides of the border.
Villagers have been tortured and dozens of villages raided, looted and burned, say Human Rights Watch (HRW).
The survivors were tied up and led into the jungle in human chains to be used as sex slaves, or forced to fight for the group, a report by the campaign group revealed. One-third of the nearly 700 people taken were reportedly children.
"The LRA continues its horrific campaign to replenish its ranks by brutally tearing children from their villages and forcing them to fight," said Anneke Van Woudenberg of the New York-based human rights watchdog. "The evidence points to Joseph Kony, the LRA leader, as the author of this atrocious campaign."
The militia, which has been likened to a religious cult started to fight the Ugandan government in the capital, Kampala. In 2005, it was driven out of Uganda into the Democratic Republic of Congo. It has since travelled along the borders of Congo, South Sudan, the Central African Republic and South Sudan.
The rebel group operates in small units and lives off the land, raiding villages, robbing whole districts for stocks and taking hundreds of ordinary villagers with them as slaves. It often forces the children it catches to kill their own parents, the Independent newspaper said. And the villagers too sick to march or fight are clubbed to death to save bullets. The group’s leaders have also used thousands of women and children as sex slaves.
A 12-year-old Congolese girl said she was forced to take part in the killing of dozens of adults used to carry stolen goods to a camp, to stop them telling anyone where the camp was. "The LRA tied the hands of the victims behind their back, a cord around their legs and placed the victims face down on the ground," she told HRW researchers. "Then the LRA would give us children a heavy wooden stick and force us to beat them on the head till they died."
The United Nations's peacekeeping mission in Democratic Republic of Congo has been urged to step up its protection of villagers. Countries around the world have called for the rebel’s leaders to be arrested and tried for crimes against humanity.