The Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) is a terrorist group led by a pseudo-Christian mystic named Joseph Kony.
In the villages of northern Uganda, Joseph Kony is the stuff of nightmares. A self-proclaimed mystic with a garbled pseudo-Christian ideology, this is a man who spirits children away from their parents at the dead of night and steals their innocence forever. Kony is the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army, a rebel group that has fought the Ugandan government for 18 years in a war that has killed more than 23,000 people and forced 1.5 million people to flee their homes.
His methods of warfare are notorious. Children are kidnapped, forced to kill their own parents, then march with the LRA, beaten and brutalised until they finally become fighters themselves. Teenage girls are hidden in elaborate fox-holes with just enough room for LRA commanders to climb into and claim them as their "wife".
Most of the LRA army is "manned" by abducted children, some of whom have grown to adulthood in its ranks. The Ugandan army has learnt to use double-speak: when it attacks LRA fighters, it has "killed some rebels"; when it captures them, it has "rescued child hostages".
In northern Uganda, thousands of children are victims of a vicious cycle of violence, caught between a brutal rebel group and the army of the Ugandan government. The rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) is ostensibly dedicated to overthrowing the government of Uganda, but in practice the rebels appear to devote most of their time to attacks on the civilian population: they raid villages, loot stores and homes, burn houses and schools, and rape, mutilate and slaughter civilians unlucky enough to be in their path.
When the rebels move on, they leave behind the bodies of the dead. But after each raid, the rebels take away some of those who remain living. In particular, they take young children, often dragging them away from the dead bodies of their parents and siblings.
The rebels prefer children of fourteen to sixteen, but at times they abduct children as young as eight or nine, boys and girls alike. They tie the children to one another, and force them to carry heavy loads of looted goods as they march them off into the bush. Children who protest or resist are killed. Children who cannot keep up or become tired or ill are killed. Children who attempt to escape are killed.
Their deaths are not quick--a child killed by a single rebel bullet is a rarity. If one child attempts to escape, the rebels force the other abducted children to kill the would-be escapee, usually with clubs or machetes. Any child who refuses to participate in the killing may also be beaten or killed.
The rebels generally bring their captives across the border to a Lord's Resistance Army camp in Sudan. In the bush in Sudan, a shortage of food and water reduces many children to eating leaves for survival; deaths from dysentery, hunger and thirst are frequent. Living conditions in the Lord's Resistance Army camp are slightly better, because the Sudanese government supplies the Lord's Resistance Army with both food and arms in exchange for assistance in fighting the rebel Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA).
Those children who reach the Lord's Resistance Army camp are forced to serve the rebels. Smaller children may be made to run errands, fetch water or cultivate the land; girls as young as twelve are given to rebel commanders as "wives." All of the children are trained as soldiers, taught to use guns and to march.
The Lord's Resistance Army enforces discipline through a combination of violence and threats. Children who do not perform their assigned tasks to the rebels' satisfaction are beaten. Children who flout rebel orders are beaten or killed, often by other abducted children. Failed escape attempts continue to be punished by death, and successful escape attempts lead to retaliation: if one sibling escapes, the rebels often kill the other sibling, or return to the child's home village and slaughter any surviving relatives.
In effect, children abducted by the Lord's Resistance Army become slaves: their labor, their bodies and their lives are all at the disposal of their rebel captors.
Once they have been trained (and sometimes before being trained), the children are forced to fight, both in Uganda and in Sudan. In Sudan, the children are forced to help raid villages for food, and fight against the Sudan People's Liberation Army. In Uganda, the children are also made to loot villages, fight against Ugandan government soldiers, and help abduct other children. When the rebels fight against the Ugandan government army, they force the captive children to the front; children who hang back or refuse to fire are beaten or killed by the rebels, while those who run forward may be mown down by government bullets.
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