- War, cannibalism, sex slavery and massacres were supposed
to have been consigned to Uganda's past. The country has been touted as
one of Africa's success stories, combating Aids and bringing relative prosperity
to Kampala. But away from the capital, a horrific civil war is claiming
the lives of tens of thousands of children, the United Nations warned yesterday.
- "Northern Uganda [is] the biggest neglected humanitarian
crisis in the world," said Jan Egelund, the UN's under-secretary general
for humanitarian affairs. "The situation is a moral outrage."
- Few people outside Uganda know that in the north the
government is fighting a fanatical and murderous cult - the Lord's Resistance
Army (LRA) - whose fighting force is made up in large part of abducted
children. Up to 95 per cent of the population in these areas have been
forced from their homes by the war. Nearly two million Ugandans, out of
a population of 24.7 million, now live in refugee camps for fear of being
attacked and killed in their villages.
- Children have told how they had been forced by the rebels
at gunpoint to abduct and murder other children and to drink their blood.
A former commander of the rebel group explained that he had forced villagers
to chop up, cook and eat their neighbours before he killed them, too.
- The LRA is led by the self-proclaimed prophet Joseph
Kony, who says he wants Uganda to live by the laws of the Ten Commandments.
He and most of his fighters are from northern Uganda's Acholi tribe, as
are most of their victims. Mr Kony says he is guided by spirits who tell
him what to do and whom to kill. The UN says he may have abducted more
than 20,000 children, 90 per cent of LRA fighters.
- In the camps, virtually everyone has a story to tell.
Pamela Aber, 18, was abducted by the rebels in February and kept prisoner
for five months before she escaped. Her job was to cook and gather firewood,
while acting as a sex slave to the commander. This is the fate of most
of the young women and girls abducted by the rebels, many of whom have
children by their captors. Soon after being kidnapped, she had had to take
part in the murder of a 14-year-old girl called Adok, who had been caught
trying to escape. The other new captives in the group, 10 of them, were
told "to bite that girl to death".
- "We started biting her but she did not die. When
we were biting her she was pleading to the rebels saying they should forgive
her and that she would not escape again. She was bleeding all over but
still she did not die. Then we were told to pinch her and she did not die.
Later we were all told to beat her with a log, one after the other, until
- When asked what she felt when she was doing this, she
said: "I was frightened, but we were told that if we did not kill
they would kill us. So you had to pretend to be brave."
- Richard Abonga, 12, had spent his time with them carrying
heavy loads of stolen food. When another boy, aged 11, complained that
he was tired, the rebels told him to put down his load and the other children
were told to gather around him: "They started chopping off his feet
with a hoe. One rebel, one foot each, and then his hands and then his eyelids
were cut off with razor blades and then his arms tied behind his back.
He was still conscious. Then they hung him up on a tree, hanging head down
and we were told to box his head until he was dead."
- Captain Vincent Okello Pakorom was 16 when he was captured
by the LRA in 1991. He rose to become one of Mr Kony's bodyguards and described
the leader as an "ordinary human being" but one who "had
the power": the ability to foresee the future.
- The cult leader seems friendly, he said, until the spirits
begin to talk through him. When they speak, somebody in his entourage writes
down what he says. "The most cruel spirit," Pakorom said, "is
"Who Are You" - the Congolese spirit who "commands killings
- Ever since Uganda gained independence in 1962, its politics
have been brutal. In more than 40 years, there has never been a peaceful
transfer of power. During 1971 and 1979 it was ruled by the former British
colonial sergeant Idi Amin who slaughtered tens of thousands.
- Why has the rebellion gone on so long? Many Acholi believe
that President Museveni underestimated the rebels. Others claim he is not
unhappy to have a continuing low-level insurgency, because it keeps the
Acholi occupied, hence they are not able to meddle in Kampala politics.
- On condition of anonymity, many people gave a different
explanation for the war. Aid workers said that too many people had too
great a financial stake in the war to want it over quickly. The conflict
is also tied to the crisis in Darfur across the border in Sudan. Khartoum
has supported the LRA for its own reasons as Uganda has for years been
backing the rebel SPLA in southern Sudan. The Sudanese government has armed
the LRA, using it to fight the SPLA.
- Dr Lawrence Ojom has been the director of St Joseph's
Hospital in Kitgum for 15 years and insists there is no end in sight. "This
is the worst. It has never been this bad." Every evening St Joseph's
Hospital gives shelter to "night commuters", some of the 45,000
children who, because of their fear of abduction, stream into Gulu, Kitgum,
and other towns every evening to sleep in the safety of the hospitals.
Many agree that not only is military action required, so are the food and
medicine that would save lives. For 2004, the UN has appealed for $112m
(£61m) in aid, mostly for the World Food Programme for Northern Uganda.
- - Tim Judah travelled to Uganda for the 'New York Review
- © 2002 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd http://news.independent.co.uk/world/africa/story.jsp?story=575237