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Monday, 2 December, 2002, 11:24 GMT
Surviving Uganda's rebellion
Awere primary school
School children have been in the frontline

It does not make for a very relaxing time when the grass is 3 metres high and you are travelling through an area where LRA rebels have been active.

Life in northern Uganda has been turned upside-down in recent months, as rebels from the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) have intensified their attacks.

The consequences of the rebel activity were clearly visible; deserted schools and abandoned stalls where markets once flourished.

And so the 80-kilometre journey to Awere on the border of Gulu and Pader Districts was a nervous and quiet one despite the amount of guns and armour in our convoy.

We did not see another single vehicle all day but there is still human traffic on the road - people carrying tomatoes, firewood, and huge sacks of charcoal.

While occasionally those brave enough tilled the soil.

Humiliation

Given how fertile the land is, it is a tragedy that so many are dependent on food handouts because it is simply too dangerous to live in the villages and farm the land.

Recently, the World Food Programme was delivering 158 metric tons of food to the 10,000 people living in Awere displaced people's camp.

Women getting food-aid
Farmers would prefer to be harvesting their own crops

A hugely welcome relief, but what a humiliating feeling for a farmer to stand in line to be given a sack of corn all the way from America while the farm down the road lies idle.

The food distribution took place next to a collection of crumbling, windowless buildings that make up Awere primary school which has been swelling in numbers.

Security has been so precarious in the district that four other primary schools have merged with Awere primary for the examinations.

These are vital exams as they determine who gets to go to secondary school - only 20 to 30% of them will make it.

Machetes

I sat in a classroom with half a dozen students whose recent experiences will make the exams much harder.

Whispering in the Acholi language, one 14-year-old girl told me how she had been abducted by LRA rebels in August.


He [Joseph Kony] was a social boy, played football and was a brilliant dancer

Former classmate
She was then marched off into the bush where she was forced to carry out an atrocity that is hard to forget.

Along with others, she was forced to kill a fellow abductee who had been caught trying to escape - beating him to death with machetes and clubs.

During a clash between the rebels and the Ugandan army she managed to flee.

"Now it's hard for me to concentrate at school," she whispered staring at the floor.

Other abducted school mates are still missing.

Confident

As we set off back to Gulu we passed Odek, the home village of the LRA leader Joseph Kony.

A cluster of eucalyptus trees mark the spot where his home was.

"He was a social boy, played football and was a brilliant dancer," one of Joseph Kony's former classmates told me, recalling the rebel leader's days at Odek primary.

Pausing briefly at a small Ugandan army detachment, I asked the soldier in charge how the situation was going.

"Very well. We killed two rebels yesterday just north of here and we captured four alive."

But while the Ugandan army speaks confidently of winning the war, the abductions continue.

And you cannot help but feel that after 16 years, this part of the world badly needs a break.


Key stories

Background
See also:

25 Nov 02 | Africa
19 Nov 02 | Africa
04 Oct 02 | Africa
16 Sep 02 | Africa
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