Tuesday, March 21, 2006

IRIN Africa | East Africa | UGANDA | UGANDA: Too scared to return home | Refugees IDPs | Focus

IRIN Africa | East Africa | UGANDA | UGANDA: Too scared to return home | Refugees IDPs | Focus: "At Padibe, according to 19-year-old Alex Akena, four children who had gone to gather mangoes had disappeared - most probably having been abducted by the LRA - one week before the UN delegation’s visit. They represent only a tiny fraction of a particularly vulnerable group that has borne the brunt of the conflict. Children, perhaps more than anybody else, will live longest with brutal memories of the terror and abuse they suffered as captives of the LRA.

Irene Ajok, nine, is afraid to sleep at night. She said that if she slept, she might be abducted and forced to eat a human being, as her sister was almost made to do when the rebels abducted them. 'They killed a person and ordered the freshly abducted children, including my sister, Lillian, to eat the body. They refused to eat that body, and she was made to carry a heavy load of sorghum for a long distance as a punishment,' Ajok told IRIN at a night commuters’ centre at a school in Kitgum. She is one of 400 children who seek refuge there every night.

Night commuters are children who, out of fear of LRA abduction, flee their home villages each night to sleep in the relative safety of larger towns. In the morning, they return to their villages. There are an estimated 40,000 night commuters in northern Uganda. The children said life as a night commuter was difficult, but better than living with the cruel treatment meted out by the rebels.

For many former abductees, the memories of atrocities committed by either their peers or LRA rebels torment them the most. Twelve-year-old Walter said he was never tortured or made to kill when he was abducted two years ago, but he had seen people having their heads cut off when they tried to escape. 'Their eyes were looking at me,' Walter remembered, speaking quickly in a monotone.

Rights groups and relief agencies estimate that the LRA has abducted at least 25,000 children to serve as fighters, porters and sex slaves since the rebellion started in northern Uganda in 1988."

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