Holy rebels strike terror into Uganda's villages

There are days when the people of Lamogi, in northern Uganda, are simply too afraid to work the fields. Marauding rebels from the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) have cut such a swathe through the region that no one knows where they will strike next.

More than 200 civilians, rebels and Ugandan army soldiers have been killed in recent weeks. In one incident this month, all but six of 30 passengers on a minibus were butchered when LRA rebels ambushed the vehicle as it drove towards the capital, Kampala.

The inhabitants of Lamogi are afraid to practise their traditional religion for fear of execution by the LRA, a Christian fundamentalist guerrilla group which seeks to overthrow the government of President Yoweri Museveni and rule the country according to the Ten Commandments.

Many peasants have stopped going to the fields on Friday, since the LRA, which is backed by the Islamic regime in neighbouring Sudan, has decreed that it is a day of rest.

Nor do they keep white chickens, or pigs. The LRA outlaws the keeping of white animals and swine. Many are afraid to ride bicycles, which are also prohibited by the rebels who hack off the feet of cyclists. Other atrocities include cutting off ears and lips.

The LRA, which is thought to be at least 2,000 strong, has its origins in the Holy Spirit Movement of a religious fanatic, Alice Lakwena, whose hymn-singing columns advanced to within 80 miles of Kampala before being defeated by government forces in 1987.

After a period under the leadership of Lakwena's father, the movement was taken over by her cousin Joseph Kony (pronounced coin), a catechist and herbalist, who renamed it the Lord's Resistance Army in 1993.

"Initially, the rebels seemed to have some military purpose", says Oyat Molondo, a farmer from Lamogi. "But now they're just behaving like bandits. We'd like to see the government negotiate with them, as it doesn't seem they can be defeated militarily."

Attempts at peace talks have faltered over the refusal of Mr Kony to lay down arms. Now Mr Museveni says he can "finish off" the rebels by mid-April. He has vowed Mr Kony will be dead "within the next few days".

The Ugandan army has beefed up its troop strength in the north since about 500 rebels crossed over the border from bases in southern Sudan in mid-February. Several units have been moved northwards to quash the insurgency. Villages in the region are being patrolled by the Uganda People's Defence Force, a militia set up to protect them from the LRA.

Uganda is modernising its 40,000-strong army, the successor of Mr Museveni's National Resistance Army, which overthrew the regime of Milton Obote a decade ago. Long regarded as poorly equipped and disorganised, it has recently received machinery and weaponry from the United States, China, South Africa, as well as from North and South Korea.

The government claims its forces have successfully engaged the LRA recently and that Mr Kony has been wounded. But the LRA has repeatedly shown it can attack areas where the army is unprepared. Using children kidnapped from Ugandan villages as porters, the rebels have proved highly mobile. They have also increased their firepower since their early days, when witchcraft was the main weapon: rebel prisoners in Gulu describe how they would march into battle smeared with nut oil as protection against bullets and holding rocks, which were supposed to turn into grenades when thrown at the enemy.

The rebels have appeared recently in new battle uniforms and carrying heavy weapons, which Uganda says are provided by Sudan. Anti-tank rocket launchers, machine guns and anti-personnel mines captured by the Ugandan army suggest Khartoum backs the insurgency.

While the LRA is unlikely to overthrow Mr Museveni, it may severely disrupt presidential and parliamentary elections planned for May and June.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor