Sunday January 5 2014

11 years later, LRA captives return home

Ms Eunice Lawino and her child at the Central Protection Unit in

Ms Eunice Lawino and her child at the Central Protection Unit in Gulu District. Photo by Julius Ocungi 

By Julius Ocungi

Gulu- Carrying her three-year-old baby girl, Ms Eunice Lawino, looked nervous as a team of journalists swarmed around her and other nine former Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) abductees who surrendered to the army last week.

“Although we could get space to escape, we were told those who had escaped and returned home were all killed by the government. For fear of being killed by the government, we remained in the jungles,” said Lawino at the Central Protection Unit in Gulu District.

She surrendered with her two children and nine other former abductees.
Lawino narrated how their earlier attempts to escape were frustrated by such LRA’s “scaremongering talks”.

She said the LRA named top commanders whom they claimed were captured and all poisoned by the government.
Lawino said this further scared the abductees from escaping and they vowed to fight on rather than be “killed”.

Lawino, now a mother of two, was abducted in 2002 while in Primary Six at Aler Primary School in Ogur Sub- county, Lira District.

Lawino and her siblings were sleeping when the LRA rebels struck. The door of their hut was flung open by the rebels. Her parents were severely beaten and left for dead.

Lawino recounts how she and other abductees were tied to each other with a rope and herded to southern Sudan through Kitgum District. Whoever got tired on the way, would be threatened with death.

“I still recall how one of the rebels beat me up and asked the commander to let me ‘rest forever’ if I was tired, because I had requested to rest. Upon reaching southern Sudan, the commanders selected us so that we become their ‘wives’,” Lawino recounted.

“I recall the pain that I went through the night of forceful sex with the commander I was given. He was twice my age,” she says.

When the UPDF offensive on the LRA bases inside Sudan intensified in 2009, Lawino, says, the rebels fled to Central African Republic where they stayed until her rebel ‘husband’ and father of her two children surrendered to the army in October 2013.

‘’My ‘husband ’ abandoned us in the jungles and we could not trace our way back home,” Lawino says.

She says her ‘husband’ commanded the group of 12, who included her, their two children and the other nine abductees. His surrender meant they were left with nobody to lead them.
“We were prompted to approach the local leaders in the area who linked us to the UPDF,” Lawino says.

She remembers an incident at Jonglei in southern Sudan while moving to Central African Republic (CAR) in 2011 when her ‘husband’, who was their commander, released some of the injured women and children to return home.
“I felt cheated by the father of my children who could not give me a chance to go back home,” Lawino says.

Being a commander’s ‘wife’, Lawino had the opportunity to occasionally listen to radio. She recalls hearing “come home” messages by the Invisible Children, a children rights organisation in Uganda, on its Rhino FM station in DR Congo.

As the commander’s ‘wife’, she never used to go to the frontline and always had bodyguards provided by her husband.

In 2012, at the CAR border with South Sudan, her rebel group was attacked by the UPDF. The group split into two. They were left only 20 in Lawino’s group under the command of her ‘husband’ but they had no ammunition and food.

“Life was tough because we were facing pressure from both the UPDF and CAR rebels,” she narrates.
In 2013 while in Djennia in CAR, one of her colleagues was killed in a shootout.

Ms Lawino says life changed when her ‘husband’ escaped. She became one of the fighters, which had not been the case previously.
“The immunity was no more, I had to carry a gun and also take care of my children,” she says.

Surrendering to UPDF
When her ‘husband’ escaped, the communication with the LRA top leadership was cut off because the link person was no more. The only option was to surrender.

Lawino said that last month, they decided to surrender to the UPDF base at Zara in CAR.

“I was scared of being poisoned as we had been told while in the jungles,” Lawino says.

But upon reaching Zara, they were warmly received by the UPDF and fears of being killed started disappearing fast. They were later brought back to Uganda to reunite with their families.

Receiving them last week, the 4th Division army spokesman, Capt Isaac Oware, said the former abductees would be taken to Gulu Children of War Rehabilitation Centre and World Vision for psycho-social management before reintegration into their communities.