Ugandan People’s Defence Force’s (UPDF) officials deliver "inspirational speeches" to Internally Displaced People at Lukong camp. His speech was part of a 2-hour “motivational” session organized by the RDC and military of the Kitgum district. The gist of this session was to remind the people who the good guys are (Ugandan military), to encourage them to enlist in the army, to turn in family members who had been abducted and released, and, oh ya!, to encourage people to let the air out of the tires of World Food Program trucks if they are not satisfied with delivery.
After 9/11, the United States declared the Lord’s Resistance Army a terrorist group and has since enlisted Uganda as an ally in the war on terror. Although the amnesty law is upheld by the government, Uganda still pursues the use of military force as the main solution to the crisis.
I met these amazing children at the GUSCO rehabilitation center in Gulu. Their fathers are Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) commanders, their mothers, abducted girls that were forced into sexual slavery. Their mothers, and some others who escape or defect from the LRA (man, woman or child) are sent to a rehabilitation center in order to ease re-integration into the community.
Young girls abducted by the LRA are either trained for military combat or are 'given' to commanders as wives. Those that live through giving birth in the bush are forced to carry their children for miles in Northern Uganda or Southern Sudan - always on the run from the Ugandan army, and always hungry. If they return, the child mothers and their children face enormous stigma, and are often rejected by their own families.
Following the stream of night-commuter children walking into town one night, we came into the center where the store verandas were full of life. I was really amazed to see that most of the children were settling in and starting to read books and write under the dim lights. I asked them what they were doing and they looked at me like I was a little slow and said that they were doing their homework of course! Most of the children we spoke to were commuting into town every night for at least the past two years. As to why they do it “…I fear that I will be taken or killed…”.
We arrived at the site of the Barlonyo masacre with our armed escort. We trampled through the long grass for a while, following militia soldiers as they eagerly searched for something. It was eerie to trample through grass that had, only 7 months earlier, been the site of hundreds of people’s death. I felt very uneasy and everybody was really tense - our military escort was fully alert on either side of us, scanning the bush with their eyes and guns as we walked. Finally, we were proudly shown this single skull by the militia unit guarding the area.
On February 21, 2004, the LRA entered Barloyno, Erute, North Lira district, internally displaced camp dressed in brand new Ugandan military uniforms. They reportedly were welcomed by the army detaché before beginning the largest killing spree in the history of the conflict. Under the disapproving but passive gaze of the international community, the President of Uganda razed the burned out houses, buried the dead and relocated the charred bodies of little children to the nearest hospital. Taking officials on a newly constructed road to Barloyno, he used the backdrop of the memorial to the dead as a testament to his resolve to end the conflict. The memorial named only 122 dead. A UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) news brief on March 16th, 2004 reported that humanitarians immediately on the scene counted over 330 human remains. This skull was only just found, and no one knows how many others are lying undiscovered in the bush.
Anaka IDP Camp. Days after a fire wiped out hundreds of huts, residents take me on a tour of the site.