Rebels shot and hacked to death scores of civilians in northern Uganda on Thursday and Friday in apparent revenge for the killing of a rebel commander, the army said Saturday.
The Vatican missionary news service said rebels of the Lord's Resistance Army killed about 60 people on a rampage through Lira district, forcing some villagers to watch as they beheaded the corpses of fellow villagers they had just killed.
Thousands of terrified civilians were fleeing a number of villages and seeking shelter in and around Lira town, the main settlement in the district of the same name.
The guerrillas, led by self-proclaimed prophet Joseph Kony, are feared for their brutality and for abducting thousands of children for use as sex slaves and front-line fighters in the east African country's 17-year-old civil war. The LRA rebels say they are fighting for the establishment of a government based on the biblical Ten Commandments.
"They are cutting off people's heads. Every time we hear of an incident it's a new level of brutality," said Father John Fraser, who helps run a Lira radio station owned by the Catholic Church.
Lt. Chris Magezi, a spokesman for the Ugandan army's 3rd Division, put the death toll at "scores" and said Kony appeared to have ordered the raid to avenge the army's Oct. 29 killing of Charles Tabuley, the No. 2 leader of the LRA.
The army blamed Tabuley for several massacres of civilians in northern and eastern Uganda over 16 months.