Sunday, February 20, 2011


Victims of Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army
By Joe Bavier
The Telegraph, February 18, 2011
"Valentine Mbolibirani was harvesting peanuts near her home in eastern Central African Republic when the gunmen arrived. It was 2009 and she was 14 years old. The men, members of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), the notorious Ugandan rebel group, had terrorised the nearby villages for more than a year, appearing suddenly out of the dense forest to loot and take captives before vanishing again. Yet Valentine, like most of her neighbours, knew little about them. 'They told us they'd come to surrender,' she said. ‘Villagers arrived to see what was happening. Then a man rode by on a bicycle, and they knocked him to the ground and kicked him. We knew then that we were their prisoners. I was taken with my little sister. There were 14 of us in all.' At one of the rebels' main camps, Valentine was summoned to a grass-roofed hut and told to ready herself. She was about to be raped by Africa's most wanted war criminal, Joseph Kony. Nearly 25 years ago Kony, a former altar boy and self-styled mystic, announced that he had received instructions from the spirit world, ordering him to overthrow Uganda's president, Yoweri Museveni, and impose the Ten Commandments as the law of the land. Today, the 50-year-old warlord's army, responsible for Africa’s longest-running armed conflict, espouses no political programme and exists primarily to shield Kony and his top commanders from war crimes indictments issued by the International Criminal Court in 2005. Theirs is a campaign of incalculable brutality. Over two decades in Uganda, LRA rebels attacked the villages of their own Acholi people, displacing some two million civilians. Untold thousands were killed; exact figures do not exist.
More than 65,000 minors were kidnapped and trained as LRA fighters or used as sex slaves. Twelve thousand children are believed to have died in the ranks of the LRA. And though now pushed out of their homeland by the Ugandan army and dwindling in numbers (from 5,000 at their peak to no more than 400 seasoned fighters now), Kony's men continue to terrorise the jungles straddling the borders between Central African Republic, Congo and Sudan. Western governments have been loth to intervene, and regional United Nations peacekeeping operations already have their hands full. But last year Barack Obama signed a law pledging to 'remove from the battlefield Joseph Kony and senior commanders' and increase humanitarian support. Many living under the daily threat of the LRA see the US initiative as their only hope. Between September and December last year, the photographer Marcus Bleasdale and I -- with support from the Pulitzer Centre on Crisis Reporting -- travelled to the areas hardest hit by the LRA to document the lives of its victims. We met Valentine, and many others with stories like hers. [...]"
[n.b. Thanks to Jo Jones for bringing this source to my attention.]

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