Child-Soldiers Being Used in Ugandan Atrocities

Missionary Has 2 Theories About Rebel Group's Tactics

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LIRA, Uganda, FEB. 10, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Rebels in Uganda are forcing their child-captives to participate in atrocities, says a priest observer.



Father Giulio Albanese, director of the Missionary Service News Agency and an eyewitness to last week's killings by the rebel Lord's Resistance Army in the Abia refugee camp, said the LRA has forced its young captives to fight as child-soldiers.

Violence triggered by the LRA since 1986 has left more than 120,000 dead and led to the kidnapping of 25,000 children. The guerrilla force is led by Joseph Kony, a self-proclaimed mystic who is trying to topple the government of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

In one of the latest attacks, in the Abia camp in the north, 80 people died at the hands of LRA rebels, whose ranks include child-soldiers.

Comboni missionary Father Albanese had two theories about why the child-soldiers seem so fierce during attacks.

"The first is that they are given narcotic substances, as is the case of the RUF child-soldiers," he told Vatican Radio, in a reference to the Revolutionary United Front of Sierra Leone.

But in the case of the LRA, "it seems that [the children] are subjected to sessions of collective hypnosis," the priest said.

"The children, when they fight, do not do so in a state of rationality and, in fact, commit unheard-of crimes," he added. "I myself have seen terrible scenes."

In the priest's opinion, the primary responsibility for this destruction lies with LRA founder Joseph Kony.

"We know that at present he is in one of the LRA bases in Sudan, on the border with Uganda," Father Albanese said. He added that Kony "is free to cross the border every day."

"While there is no real will on the part of the Sudanese government to hand him over to international justice, I think it will be impossible to speak of peace, although I don't exclude the possibility of a negotiation," the priest added.

Since 1994, the Sudanese government has armed the LRA, to counter the Kampala government which has supported John Garan's Sudanese People's Liberation Army.

"This is why the civil society, both Ugandan as well as Sudanese, with the Church in the lead, has requested that the question of war in the north of Uganda be introduced in the negotiations between the Khartoum government and Garan's SPLA, as the real solution to this conflict lies not so much in Uganda as in neighboring Sudan," the missionary noted.

Father Albanese says the international community must abandon its spectator role, because "infamies and horrible crimes in great numbers have been committed over these years."