'This war will never end'

Terecina Ayo remembers the night rebel fighters attacked, hacking to death her 12-year-old nephew and 13-year-old niece, abducting other villagers and torching thatched huts.

The widow says she survived that night four years ago by running into the bush. But she and many other survivors in northern Uganda are nonetheless scarred.

According to a survey released on Monday, 45% of the people of northern Uganda have witnessed the killing of a family member and 23% have been mutilated.

Forty percent of the 2 585 respondents said they had been abducted by fighters of the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army.

The survey, which has a margin of error of 1% to 3%, was conducted by researchers from the Human Rights Centre at the University of California, Berkeley, and the New York-based International Centre for Transitional Justice.

The survey also found that an overwhelming majority—76%—wanted to see those responsible for abuses “held accountable for their actions”.

The shadowy rebels have waged a campaign of murder, rape and abductions, mainly targeting four districts of northern Uganda.

The conflict has forced more than 1,5-million people to flee their homes in northern Uganda.

“This is what I call home because there is no other place to go,” Ayo said inside a dark, hot and smoky thatched hut at the Bobi camp—one of about 200 sheltering people who fled their homes to escape the violence.

Others known as “night commuters” work in their villages during the day, but sleep in larger towns where they feel safer.

Farmers are unable to cultivate their fields because they fear rebel attacks and losing their crops to the insurgents, who hold no territory and launch raids in small, highly mobile groups.

Survey respondents said their top priorities are access to food and securing lasting peace.

Chronic food shortages, limited health care and unsanitary conditions in the camp have taken a toll on Ayo, a stooped, 67-year-old woman who moves around with the aid of a walking stick.

“This war will never end.
There is no hope,” Ayo said.

Some in the region express not just Ayo’s despair, but anger that President Yoweri Museveni has so far been unable to crush the rebellion, despite using massive military and financial resources since he took power in 1986.

The rebels are made up of the remnants of a northern rebellion that began after Museveni, a southerner, took power as a guerrilla leader.

“Our people are really frustrated at the government’s inability to end the war. For us leaders from the area, we are at a loss because there is nothing we can explain to our people. People are caught up in despair,” legislator Hillary Onek said.

“It is frustrating because government says it is winning the war and yet the war continues over and over again,” said Bobi camp leader Annet Kurui.

Last year, the government began yet another round of peace talks with rebels, but talks collapsed when the insurgents refused to sign an interim peace treaty at year’s end.

Since then, the government has pursued the so-called two-pronged approach—with the army piling up military pressure on rebel fighters and negotiators attempting to restart peace talks.

“[Rebel leader Joseph] Kony has stubbornly refused to cooperate and so you rule out that possibility of dialogue,” the Gulu district chairperson, retired Colonel Walter Ochola, told United Nations Children’s Fund chief Ann Veneman during her tour of the region last week.

“The killing and abduction of children will not stop unless Kony himself is killed,” Ochola told Veneman.

The international community should bring local, national and international players together to develop a comprehensive strategy for peace and justice in northern Uganda, according to recommendations accompanying the survey’s release.—Sapa-AP