Small voices in a forgotten war

For more than a decade, the Lord's Resistance Army, a rebel group, has terrorized northern Uganda, abducting children, forcing them to serve as fighters, workers, and concubines. The Christian Children's Fund collected written testimony from children who were abducted this summer but escaped. Excerpts here are from three teens whose education in village schools near Gulu the fund sponsors.

On the night of Aug. 13, as I read a book in front of my hut where I sleep with my brother, I looked up and saw 18 soldiers in Army uniforms marching. I thought it was government soldiers doing patrol in the village. [But] the group came straight to me, rounded me up, all their guns facing me. One of them grabbed off my shoes and socks. One removed my shirt. Another [took] my belt, slapped me, and tied my hands behind my back. Some entered the house, and I saw them coming out with food [and] my father's small radio. Some were catching chickens. Another was beating my aunt while asking her [for] money.

I realized I was in rebel captivity because of the many children, mothers, and babies carrying heavy, looted food, and the soldiers were wearing wooden crosses and rosaries around their necks.

I spent the first two nights and days moving barefooted and slept in the cold bush without a blanket. There was a lot of rain. Some days we walked for long distances. My third day, I was taught how to march, [and to] dismantle, clean, and assemble a gun. I saw two members [of a captured] government defense unit being killed [with] an axe and panga [long knife]. An abducted boy who tried to escape was killed in front of all the captives [with] a knife on the barrel of a gun to show all abductees that whoever will try to escape will also die. Those with swollen feet [from] walking were made to rest forever [killed] when they asked to rest or be released.

My luck came after nine days when the rebels wanted to cross [a] big river. I met a boy from my village. We decided to escape together and jumped into the nearby brush. We hid nearly 2 1/2 hours. We then started moving in the direction of Gulu, but we were scared that the rebels would meet and kill us, [or that] government soldiers would mistake us for rebels and kill us, or civilians who were disturbed by the rebels would kill us. We decided to walk only at night.

We came across a woman working in her garden. She took us to her home after hearing our story. On hearing that we were rebel abductees who had just escaped, [her] husband started to chase us out of his home for fear that the rebels would follow us. After a long persuasion by the wife, the man offered to take us to our homes.

The following morning, the man carried us on his bicycle 25 kilometers to our home near Gulu. My father started crying. The whole family cried, and I cried too. My father gave the man who helped us a goat to thank him.

– Denis Candano, 17

On the night of Aug. 3, when I was deep asleep, I woke up and I saw a number of flashes all over the small huts. After a few minutes, a fully uniformed Lord's Resistance Army soldier kicked off the door to my house. Four of us were tied up to other abducted persons in a single line. We walked a few meters away from our home. The army went ahead of us and left us with a few guards. After reaching a small center they broke into two shops and looted soda, sugar, salt and posha [corn meal]. I was given half a bag of sugar to carry on my head. After a few minutes, one commander conducted a short prayer and [and] said, "Anybody among the newly abducted who may attempt to leave shall be killed."

The government force, the Ugandan People Defense Force (UPDF), made an ambush ahead on the other side of [a] stream ... there was serious gun shot exchange. We separated when a helicopter gunship started following us very closely and firing. That is how I escaped after spending two nights in the bush, walking morning to evening.

When I returned home, I was fearful [because] bad acts have been done to our neighbors. I was afraid to stay in the community because of fearing that the UPDF [government forces] may think I am a rebel. Otherwise I am fine and I have done my second-term exam at school.

– Joseph Loum, 14

It was in June when the rebels came to our home village at around midnight. The rebels looted all our clothes, food ... and money was collected from my mother, and they abducted me. At 4 a.m., we reached a place called Agung where they burned houses and abducted many people. I was given a crate of soda to carry.

We moved near Aswa River where we found many groups of rebels training abducted girls and boys. [Government] forces were following us, so they attacked. The helicopter came and started bombing the rebels. I heard them commanding people to run in one direction, but I took my own direction. I reached home at 10 the next day. This is how God brought me home safe.

– Jenneth Achora, 19

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