Accused of the massacre of over 170 civilians in a Ugandan refugee camp on Saturday, the LRA has been condemned by governments and human rights groups worldwide.

Dedicated to the overthrow of the government, the rebel group has complained of discrimination and marginalisation by Kampala.

But rights bodies have long documented horrific accounts of child abduction, slavery and massacres carried out by the LRA.

And the war it has waged with the government since the 1980s has been responsible for the displacement of around 1.3 million people.

Humanitarian emergency

Uganda's 18 year-old conflct was recently described by the UN as "the biggest forgotten, neglected humanitarian emergency in the world today".

Jan Egeland, UN secretary general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief, said last November: "This is not a war where the civilian population is affected through collateral damage, it is a war targeting the civilian population, and especially children."

"This is not a war where the civilian population is affected through collateral damage, it is a war targeting the civilian population, and especially children"

Jan Egeland,
United Nations

And the LRA have been intimately involved in that carnage.

The Lord's Resistance Army took over the leadership of northern Uganda's rebellion in 1988, two years into a conflict fuelled by perceived economic marginalisation of the region.

When President Yoweri Museveni took power in 1986, his forces wreaked revenge on the northern Acholim people whose soldiers had formed the backbone of previous regimes.

Christian beliefs

Remnants of the Acholim forces fled north and into southern Sudan to form the Ugandan People's Democratic Army (UPDA).

During this period, several splinter groups formed in Acholi-land, which were based partly on traditional and Christian religious beliefs.

One of these groups, which was organised by Joseph Kony, drew support from UPDA deserters, Acholi youth and members of other splinter groups.

Human Rights Watch said in a report last year that Kony's LRA has brutalised the Acholi population in northern Uganda for many years.

It kills and mutilates civilians, abducts children and adults, loots homes and public buildings, and burns villages and fields, said the organisation.

Mutilation

To ensure his recruits do not escpae, Kony is reported to have them killed in the most appalling manner - mutilating them over several days.

The leader is also said to believe he must "cleanse" the Acholi people who do not support his cause, and uses biblical references to explain why it is necessary to kill them.

Until 2002, the LRA were principally based in southern Sudan, conducting cross border raids, attacking government positions, and abducting children and taking them to Sudan.

The Sudanese government supported them in retaliation for the support Uganda gave to a Sudanese rebel group.

But Kampala has responded ferociously to the LRA's tactics, and has been implicated in several atrocities.

Civilian suffering

Kampala has been fighting a
northern rebellion for 18 years

In response to the conflict and purportedly to protect civilians from LRA attacks, the government forced much of the civilian population into camps commonly known as "protected villages".

From 1996 to 2000, 400,000 civilians were rounded up by the military and forced into the camps.

Currently, 800,000 people out of an estimated total population of 1,100,000 are internally displaced in Acholi-land.

Human Rights Watch says government forces have committed "human
rights abuses in the north, including the murder and rape of civilians, recruitment of children, and the looting of property".

Protracted conflict

Efforts to broker a ceasefire and lasting peace between the LRA and the government have to date been unsuccessful.

But there are practical reasons for the war to continue.

Kony and his senior commanders benefit from the booty conflict affords them, and believe they will be killed if they surrender.

Meanwhile, despite evidence to the contrary President Museveni is convinced he can wipe the LRA out militarily.

All the ingrediants, many argue, for the perpetuation of an already protracted conflict.