Enslaved Child Army Terrorizes Uganda

Readers of Uganda's leading newspaper were met with a grisly sight last week.

Splashed on the pages of the state-run New Vision was a picture of six mutilated bodies, sprawled in the mud, some of them missing their heads and limbs. In the center of the picture was a big black cooking pot, with a leg sticking out of it.

The picture accompanied a story about the latest attack from the Lord's Resistance Army, a rebel group that has been plaguing the central African country for nearly two decades.

It is a bizarre movement, led by a mysterious man who claims to be possessed, and whose power derives from the thousands of children his forces have kidnapped to serve as his soldiers and sex slaves. The LRA is best known for leaving horrifying acts of cannibalism and dismemberment in its wake.

There have been reports that the LRA wants to establish a government based on the biblical Ten Commandments. But its leader, Joseph Kony, has so seldom been seen that this is hard to confirm — and peace is equally elusive.

"Nobody knows what his ambitions are, what he wants in the way of a settlement," said Jemera Rone, an Africa researcher for Human Rights Watch.

The LRA is the largest insurgent group in Uganda, a country which has been one of the troubled continent's success stories. But there has been a flare-up in LRA activity since June, and observers are alarmed.

On Oct. 30, the World Food Program warned that more than a half-million people would soon face severe food shortages leading to unprecedented hunger. Much of the shortage is blamed on LRA activity.

A representative of Catholic Relief Services, another aid organization active in the region, said they are concerned about food shortages, but are more concerned about other LRA activity, which appears to be growing increasingly unpredictable — and violent.

The LRA "is getting more and more outrageous and more and more brutal," said Anna Schowengerdt, CRS' acting country representative in Uganda. The report in the New Vision was evidence of this, she said.

Blood Madness

Part of the fear of the LRA no doubt stems from the idiosyncrasies of its leader. A skinny, middle-aged man with braided hair, Joseph Kony claims to be guided by spirits who help him see into his enemies' minds.

According to U.N. documents, Kony's imagined spirits include a Sudanese female Chief of Operations; a Chinese Deputy Chief, Ing Chu, who commands an imaginary jeep battalion; an American named King Bruce, reportedly after martial arts film star Bruce Lee; another American named Jim Brickey, who fights with Kony's troops as long as they obey his commands, and the spirit of Juma Oris, the deceased interior minister under former Ugandan dictator Idi Amin.

Kony is a former altar boy and was part of an earlier Christian fundamentalist rebel movement, the Holy Spirit Movement, which was founded in 1986 by a former prostitute, Alice Lakwena.

But that movement came to a quick end — no doubt because Lakwena promised her followers immunity from the bullets of government troops.

As the LRA emerged from the ashes of the Holy Spirit Movement, it has spawned its own versions of madness.

Paranoid of informers, the rebels have cut off the ears and lips of suspects, and cut off the feet of anybody using a bicycle. They feared the bicycles would be used to inform the Ugandan army of the rebels' presence.

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