Ex-LRA Captives Speak of Devil's Army

Former abductees tell of beatings, looting and their hazardous flight to freedom.

Ex-LRA Captives Speak of Devil's Army

Former abductees tell of beatings, looting and their hazardous flight to freedom.

Wednesday, 11 March, 2009
Five South Sudanese abducted by the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army, LRA, have returned home, revealing details of their harrowing experiences and dangerous escapes.

The abductees, including three young women, two of whom gave birth in the bush, fled the LRA during recent battles between the rebels and the Ugandan army.

The clashes followed the mid-December joint Ugandan, South Sudanese and Congolese offensive against LRA bases in the Garamba National Park in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, codenamed operation Lightning Thunder.

Ugandan soldiers brought the abductees to their base in Dungu, the regional capital of northeastern DRC, from where they were airlifted to Yambio, Western Equatoria, in late February.

Together with their allies, the Ugandans have been pursuing the LRA fighters since their surprise attack on rebel camps in Garamba on December 14.

The attack failed to defeat the rebels, however, allowing them to rampage across the region for the past two months, leaving an estimated 900 Congolese and South Sudanese civilians dead.

The escapees told IWPR that LRA leader Joseph Kony learned of the attack ahead of time.

“[He] told his men a day earlier there were plans to bomb the camp and ordered all his commanders and other soldiers to leave immediately,” said John Isaac, a 20-year-old former resident of the South Sudan town of Ezo, who had been abducted in March 2008.

"The first day of the attack, we were in the camp,” he said, explaining that many non-combatants remained even though Kony and his fighters had left.

Isaac and the other abductees said they despised Kony.

“It seems he talks with his devil gods,” Isaac said. “We prefer him to be called the leader of [the] Devil’s Resistance Army."

The escapees spoke of their wretched life in the rebel camps.

"All the period we have spent in the hands of the notorious LRA, we were beaten, forced to do hard labour and to kill one another," said Isaac.

Isaac and some others escaped during the chaos of a rebel encounter with Ugandan forces. He said that the LRA fighters scattered as fighting broke out, enabling him and five Congolese children to run to safety.

“I thought I would not survive,” said Isaac. “Everyone was screaming and the children were crying. We were all praying to Almighty God to protect us.”

They came across some local people, he said, who took them to Ugandan army units based nearby, "We felt joyful when we escaped into the hands of Congolese civilians."

Once the escapees reached the Ugandan army soldiers, they said they knew they were safe. "The soldiers took us to Dungu the following day," said Isaac.

Another escapee airlifted to Yambio, Gislan Nyangi, 16, from Lanya, who was abducted in 2007, told IWPR that she fled with her eight-month-old child while the LRA fighters looted goats, chickens, and dried food from a village they had just raided.

Kony and two of his lieutenants are wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Two other commanders who were also indicted are presumed to be dead.

Speaking to journalists in Yambio late last month, Uganda army spokesman Captain Adeo Akiiki insisted the Lightning Thunder operation had largely accomplished its goals, despite clear evidence that many of the LRA fighters escaped and went on to commit further atrocities.

"Allied forces’ main aims and targets were to rescue and free the women and children abducted by the LRA rebels, destroy the bases and military strength of LRA forces which were reorganising in the Garamba jungles, and force Joseph Kony to sign the Juba Peace agreement," he said.

"So far we have managed to destroy the camps they have set up in Garamba forests, [and] captured and destroyed some LRA equipment.

"The allied forces have rescued 265 abductees from Sudan, DRC and CAR (the Central African Republic). Seventy of the abductees are South Sudan citizens, who we have handed over to Western Equatoria state."

Akiiki said the joint forces have captured more than a dozen LRA commanders and fighters – an estimated 46 fighters were killed in ground operations, while

100 died in aerial attacks.

Ugandan troops, he said, continue to find bodies believed to be of LRA rebels.

The captain rejected claims that the recent carnage wreaked by the LRA was proof that the joint military operation had failed.

“They will continue to make minor attacks in places which they believe are not the stronghold of the allied forces,” he said.

Akiiki would not speculate on when the DRC operation would end.

Modest Kizito Oketa is an IWPR-trained reporter.
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