Uganda: "Breaking God's commands": The destruction of childhood by the Lord's Resistance Army

September 17, 1997

Uganda: "Breaking God's commands": The destruction of childhood by the Lord's Resistance Army

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"In Sudan, there were many Sudanese soldiers. When I first arrived, the Sudanese soldiers identified a site where we could camp. Commanders sat together and exchanged ideas. Guns were brought in from Juba. The radio system was also provided by Sudanese."

Over the past three years the LRA have used bases at Gong near Katire, Owiny-Ki-Bul, Palotaka, Parajok and, more recently, near abandoned camps formerly used by Sudanese internally displaced persons at Aru. In April 1997 Aru was overrun by a combined force of Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and UPDF.(10) As of August 1997 the LRA base camp had moved to a site 38 kilometres south east of Juba, one kilometre behind the frontline between the Sudan army and the SPLA.

Arms supplied by the Sudan army are usually brought by truck to LRA camps in Sudan. In 1994 arms were reported to be channelled through the SPLA-United, an SPLA breakaway faction led in Eastern Equatoria by William Nyuon Bany. However, by August 1994 Sudan army regular soldiers were directly involved. Children abducted in 1996 and 1997 report seeing Sudanese soldiers off-loading arms and ammunition from army vehicles at the LRA base camp in Aru. The weapons included AK47 and G3 assault rifles, anti-tank weaponry (including B10 recoilless guns), 81mm and 82mm mortars and landmines, which were not a common feature of the war until the Sudan Government began to support the LRA. R.K. was abducted on 1 January 1997 and trained to place landmines:

"I was not trained in their names - I was shown how to use them. There are three different kinds. Small ones, which open like a mathematical set, for use against people. Then there are round ones, which are set off by 70-80 kilos - a bicycle will make them explode. And big ones, the size of a small washing basin, which are for heavy vehicles. There was Arabic writing on the mines. The Arabs also gave uniforms. I got one."

It is within the power of the Sudanese authorities to free abducted children. This they have chosen not to do. Indeed, quite the opposite - so far the Sudanese have actively assisted the LRA to keep hold of children.(11) R.O. was 15 when he was abducted in September 1996. The LRA group that took him was attacked by UPDF helicopter gun ships as it moved towards the Sudan border:

"When we reached Sudan our group had many sick and wounded. We went to an Arab detach and a signal was sent to Joseph Kony. A vehicle came, the sick were put on it. The rest of us walked to the main base."

In February 1997 J., a 15-year old boy abducted in November 1996, escaped with his brother from the LRA camp at Aru:

"We went towards Uganda but we came on a camp of the Arabs. They took us. We were held waiting for a vehicle to carry us back. We knew we would be killed so that night we ran again. But then we ran into an Arab patrol. It was dark, my brother and I went in different directions. He was caught. I waited for him but then had to go on."

J.'s brother escaped again while in transit back to the LRA base. He also managed to get back to Uganda.

The Sudan army's use of the LRA as a militia extends to joint operations against the SPLA. R., who was abducted in April 1996 and taken almost immediately to Sudan, reported that he took part in three joint operations with the Sudan army against the SPLA in 1996 and early 1997. O.R., who was 17 when he was abducted in October 1994, also fought the SPLA:

"Sudanese soldiers collected some of us to go fighting in Sudan. I was picked. Many of the soldiers fighting the SPLA were Ugandans. Some SPLA soldiers were captured. We took them to the Arabs...I escaped in January 1995. I was one of those at the frontline observing the enemy. It was in Parajok. The enemy was the SPLA."

The capture by the UPDF of 114 Sudanese regular soldiers and 64 LRA members in an engagement on 14 April 1997 is evidence that joint operations were still taking place in the first third of 1997. The Uganda Government reports that this engagement took place at Lelabur, in Uganda close to the Sudan border.

Institutionalized violence