The Lord’s Resistance Army is led by a sinister former priest and terrorises Ugandans with hideous atrocities, reports Adrian Blomfield in Lira
telegraph.co.uk, Mar. 20
The rebels laughed as they handed 10-year-old Morris Ocen a burning branch and told him to set fire to the thatched roof hut where his mother and four younger brothers were cowering.
Morris laughed too. Like every child in Northern Uganda he knew about the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the terrible things they did, but he could not believe they were serious.
“I thought it was a joke,” he said. “They had told me I was their friend. But then they stopped laughing. They said they would shoot me if I did not kill them.”
Morris had been nervous ever since the shooting started at Bia, a camp near the town of Lira where his family and thousands of others sought shelter from the LRA nightly raids on the villages of Northern Uganda.
As his mother and younger brothers hid under a bed Morris was overcome with curiosity. He darted in and out of the hut to see what was happening until he was caught by one of the rebels.
“Everywhere houses were burning and people were screaming,” he said. “They had taken many people and tied them up under a mango tree.”
As he watched, the rebels forced their captives to lie face down on the ground before slamming four-feet-long pestles, used by the residents of Bia to pound manioc roots, into the backs of their heads until they died.
Some were singled out for special treatment. A plank was forced between their teeth before the pestles were smashed into their skulls. The wood ripped through their cheeks and the roofs of their mouths, condemning the disfigured victims, who would be unable to eat, to a slow death through starvation.
“They told me to hit the dead bodies with sticks,” Morris said. “They said it was a game. Then they said let us go and see your parents.”
Standing in front of his home, the burning branch in his hand, Morris was now terrified. Closing his eyes, he raised it to the grass roof and the flames quickly took hold. “I could hear all of them screaming inside,” he said.
The LRA has waged a guerrilla war in Uganda’s north for the past 18 years. The movement is led by Joseph Kony, perhaps Africa’s most bizarre and sinister rebel leader.
What began as a legitimate rebellion provoked by government atrocities against members of the Acholi tribe has disintegrated into a horrifying campaign with little apparent motive.
Kony, a former priest heavily influenced by local mystic beliefs, has said he wants Uganda to be brought under the LRA’s 20 commandments.
According to documents discovered after a battle, these include, alongside the Biblical Ten Commandments, injunctions forbidding the use of toothbrushes and the killing of snakes.
Perhaps most odd is the 20th commandment which reads: “Thou shalt have two testicles, neither more nor less.”
Kony claims to be possessed by several spirits, the chief of whom is Lakwena, the ghost of an Italian First World War veteran who died near the source of the Nile. The other spirits direct the war. Silly Silindi, a female Sudanese spirit, is the chief commander.
Among the other spirits are three Americans. Major Bianca is head of intelligence, King Bruce is responsible for turning rocks into handgrenades in mid-flight, while Jim Brickey, also known as “Who Are You?”, will switch sides and ensure a government victory if Kony’s disciples gather with witchcraft.
“One of the spirits would possess him every day and he would preach to us from nine in the morning until one o’clock,” said Grace Angeyo, who lived in Kony’s main camp outside the Sudanese town of Juba for five years.
Miss Angeyo, captured in 1999 when she was 15, was forced to become a sex slave for one of Kony’s senior commanders, Jimmy Ociti.
“When he first tried to sleep with me I tried to resist,” she said. “I was taken to the punishment place where they broke my arms and beat me until I lost consciousness.”
She paints a grim picture of life in the commune. Hundreds of teenage girls have been forced to live as the concubines of Kony and his men. The girls have given birth to hundreds of children, many fathered by Kony, who demands sex several times a day.
“Many people are executed,” said Miss Angeyo, who escaped last month with her baby daughter, named Unlucky.
“He would say there was witchcraft. Once he picked out 18 women and children and said they were witches. They were all killed.”
Kony’s campaign is sustained by abducted children who are beaten, brain-washed and trained to become killers, often by being forced to murder fellow prisoners. More than 10,000 children have been taken in 18 months.
Driving across Northern Uganda is like seeing Africa at its most sinister. Villages are deserted or often burned down. Crops lie rotting in abandoned fields. The roads are empty too, save for occasional army patrols.
Eighty per cent of the population, close to 1.5 million people, have fled the LRA onslaught to seek refuge in overcrowded camps where they supposedly come under the protection of government forces and allied militias.
Yet the rebels seem to raid the camps with impunity, carrying off children and slaughtering their parents. The government has been accused by religious leaders and aid workers of turning a blind eye to LRA atrocities.
President Yoweri Museveni’s soldiers have carried out numerous executions of civilians they are supposed to be protecting in apparent revenge for support given to the former dictator Milton Obote by the local Acholi population in the 1980s.
“We fear the army by day and the LRA by night,” said one man in a camp in Gulu district. He would not give his name as he feared losing his monthly food ration, donated by the United Nations but delivered by government forces.
In the last year, under international pressure, Mr Museveni has begun to deal with the LRA. He has taken command of military operations, basing himself in a camp in the bush, and has taken up an offer of US intelligence, though not of military back-up.
As the Sudanese government, which has backed the LRA financially and militarily, distances itself from the movement, Mr Museveni claims he is on the verge of victory. Helicopter gunships have gone into action, striking LRA patrols, although most of the casualties have been abducted children.
Hundreds of Liberian women have taken to the streets of the capital, Monrovia, protesting against a recent wave of ritual killings there.
Bodies of children have been found with some of their organs missing, taken for what are viewed as magical properties.
The women, dressed in white, stormed the Justice Ministry demanding action against the killers.
Politicians and the wealthy are believed to pay for the murders to increase their chances of good fortune.
The police argue they have too few resources to deal effectively with crime.
The BBC’s Jonathan Paye-Layleh in Monrovia says the local media has recently been dominated by reports of people chasing children at night and the discovery of bodies with some organs missing.
“Our children are the future of this country, and we want them to be safe because we want our future to be bright,” said Henrietta Sumo, the women’s spokesperson.
Acting Justice Minister Edward Goba blamed logistical limitations for the inability of the police to fight such crime.
“Anybody’s relatives could be killed as a result of these criminal activities. But the police have only two pick-ups; given the size of Monrovia and the population of the city, two pickups are like dropping two grains of rice into the ocean,” said Mr Goba.
He expressed support for the women demonstrators.