Enslaved Child Army Terrorizes Uganda

Their methods of violence have also become increasingly gruesome. Whereas much of their violence used to be committed with firearms, they are turning to more personal methods, like machetes, local reports said.

There have also been reports of LRA soldiers killing babies by picking them up by their ankles and swinging them into trees. One former child soldier told the BBC he and his colleagues were forced to kill a fellow boy soldier who had tried to escape — by stomping him to death.

"If it seemed you were not doing it hard enough you were beaten," he said.

K-12 Army

In the incident recounted in Uganda's New Vision, the LRA killed 28 villagers for failing to stop a captive from escaping with some of their valuables — identified as a gun, a large sum of money and a Polaroid camera.

The Ugandan military arrived in time to prevent any further carnage, the newspaper reported — but there are reports of other incidents in which the LRA has forced people to cannibalism and then killed them.

In April, the LRA forced 60 funeral-goers to eat the corpse they were carrying before gunning them down, Reuters reported.

Allegations of cannibalism and mutilation, while rare, have been seen before in Africa — most notably, in the conflicts in Sierra Leone and Liberia during the 1990s.

Those conflicts were also characterized by the widespread practice of abducting children for use as soldiers and sex slaves — a practice the LRA has adopted as well.

Like the conflicts in Liberia and Sierra Leone, the LRA has obtained child soldiers by abducting them, and sometimes forcing the children to kill their family members to secure their attachment to the group.

According to reports from a number of aid groups, the LRA was so dependent on child labor that they regularly turned to abduction when their ranks thinned.

"My perception is that there's probably no family at all in Northern Uganda that hasn't been affected," said Schowengerdt, who has worked in Uganda for the past two years.

Human Rights Watch's Rone said the abductions were significant, but not so much as to have an effect on demographics. Northern Uganda, where the LRA operates, has a population of 100,000, she said. At most, 12,000 children were abducted, but 4,000 have since escaped.

However, there's no discounting the human cost of the conflict. Elaine Bole of the Christian relief organization Worldvision visited a rehabilitation camp in Northern Uganda last year, where she met two young former members of the LRA.

One was a girl, who had been a sex slave, and then abandoned once she had become pregnant, she said. The other was a boy, who had been shot in the groin. The rebels abandoned him because he was leaking urine and stinking up the camp.

Unlike other child soldiers, who are typically aggressive and violent, "these children were more defeated," she said. They were almost obsequious, she said — they wanted to stay in the camp, because this was the best thing that happened to them.

Failed Promises

Uganda-watchers say one reason why the LRA has been allowed to survive for so long is that it operates mostly out of southern Sudan and northern Uganda, home of the Acholi people.

The LRA are Acholi, and up until recently, so have been most of their victims. They make up less than 5 percent of the population, and their area of the country is less economically important than the developed south.

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