Former LRA soldier, Moses Rubangangeyo, abducted as a child.
Credit: IRIN
Moses Rubangangeyo was abducted by the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) at the age of 15 and served as a soldier in its ranks for nine years. Formed in 1987, the LRA is a rebel paramilitary group that operates mainly in northern Uganda. It has been engaged in armed rebellion against the government for nearly 20 years. The LRA has been accused of widespread human-rights violations, including the mass abduction of civilians and the use of child soldiers.

QUESTION: How did you become a member of the LRA?

ANSWER: I was abducted in 1996 from my boarding school in Gulu when I was 15 years old. On 22 August 1996, at around midnight, 29 LRA soldiers, each with a gun, surrounded our school. They attacked us, tied our hands together, and we were forced to move off into the night. They took us to join the force of a commander some distance away, who has since died.

After two days on the move, they gathered us together, picked two people at random – one of whom was my brother – and killed them in front of us to make sure we were too afraid to escape. Then we were beaten – each person was given 50 strokes. This was to mark us as LRA soldiers. We were not used to that kind of beating and torture, and so suffered from a lot of pain.

We continued to move for months. On 9 October, the same commander who abducted us abducted some other people. We were all trained together and told that if we escaped, we would be killed, and that if someone else escaped, we would all be beaten. In December 1996, we were shipped to Sudan, where our intensive training took place and where we were equipped with AK-47s. All the abductees were very well armed – we each had our own gun.

Q: Did having a gun change your experience?

A: If you have a gun, you are respected. A gun means that you have been trained and are now a soldier. For the first six months in the LRA, you are doubted. You are just a recruit and are not taken seriously. They beat you and do not give you enough food. They make you carry heavy loads, and if you complain, they will beat you to death with a gun. When you have your own weapon, you have a greater sense of identity - you are much more free. Almost nobody will monitor you, nor think that you will escape.

Q: What sort of weapons does the LRA have, and how do they operate?

A: The LRA has underground stores - the Sudanese government supplied the weapons and the LRA then buried them. They have pistols, AK-47s, RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades] B10 recoilless rifles, SPG9 Kopye guns, mortars, 12.7 anti-aircraft guns and GPMGs [general purpose machine guns]. The LRA are more heavily armed than the government, and their weapons are much more sophisticated. The Sudanese also gave the LRA four tanks with trained drivers.

In addition, the LRA uses telephones, walkie-talkies and satellite phones, and they depend on the local community to gather information. The local people would tell us: “They [the UPDF, Uganda People’s Defence Force, the official armed forces of Uganda] have a mortar and 200 soldiers.”

Q: How do abductions take place, and whom does the LRA target?

A: Five soldiers alone can abduct 100 people. They can overrun a village. Just four soldiers can carry out a successful ambush. The LRA likes to abduct nine- to 15-year-olds because it is easy to turn the mind of a young person. “We will overthrow Museveni, and you will be a minister,” they told us. “We are not abducting you, we are saving you from Museveni.”

Kony [Joseph Kony, the leader of the LRA, who claims to be a mystic and a prophet] has a spirit that everyone fears: It follows you wherever you go. If you do something wrong, it will see and will kill your parents.

Children between the ages of seven and nine are the best fighters, so they will not be tortured. In fact, if a child between seven and nine years old died under my charge, I would have to explain why. But if they are older, they could be tortured or left to starve, and I wouldn’t be questioned about the death.

The girls who are abducted are the 11- and 12-year-olds. When they reach 16, they are given to men, but some will have previously been sex slaves.

Q: How are children born in captivity treated?

A: If you are born in captivity, you are part of a new generation. They will not torture you, but will teach you: “This is an RPG; this is an AK-47.” Such children are not just trained in one arm, but can set landmines and shoot RPGs and mortars. Even a child who is one metre tall can fire an RPG.

Seven- to nine-year-old children are the best fighters, as if they are told to kill someone, they will do it. They have no values. They do not think - they just do it. They are brave, brutal and active in the field. A child soldier cannot question. However, if they do, they will be punished. A recruit was given a gun while an officer bathed, and when he had soap in his eyes, the child escaped with the gun. He was quickly caught, and beaten 600 times and told to recover the gun. When he ran away again, they went after his relatives.

Q: How did the LRA obtain supplies when you were with them? And what effects did these tactics have on the local population?

A: When we were in Sudan, there was a period during which we had no food. We had to fight for food, and when there were no internally displaced persons (IDP) camps, we had to rely on looting. The Sudanese government did not give us enough food. At least 1,000 LRA soldiers died in Sudan due to malaria, malnutrition and a lack of medicine. If they had not been taken to fight in the bush, they would not have died in this way.

Many women and children were killed in the conflict. A [helicopter] gunship will shoot any women and children, because they do not know how to dodge the fire – they walk in a line, and it is very easy to target them. Women were also raped at gunpoint. If a man with a gun tells a woman, “I want to have sex with you,” what will she do? Where will she go? She has to comply.

No one knows how many people have died – the UPDF and UNICEF [UN Children’s Fund] don’t know. They just guess. The LRA does not bury people, especially those killed in battle. Rather they leave the body under a tree and cover it with leaves. So the LRA also does not know how many have died, as there are no graves to count.

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