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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 June 2006, 14:01 GMT 15:01 UK
LRA victim: 'I cannot forget and forgive'
Following recent comments from Lord's Resistance Army rebel leader Joseph Kony in which he denied committing atrocities, Ugandan John Ochola, 25, responds by telling his story. He was abducted by rebels from his village, Namkora in northern Uganda, which was attacked in February 2002. During the attack 50 people were axed to death and he was one of 35 abductees.

LRA victim, John Ochola
John Ochola was deformed by rebels from Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army
I wish I could be born again. It hurts me to see my reflection because of the way I now look.

The memories of it all are so painful.

It was in the night when I saw a number of torches flash at me. I was commanded to lie down facing the ground. As I did so, the rebels began raiding other houses around me.

They arrested many - tying, and lying the victims on the ground in three lines.

People were screaming from all corners of our village.

Two men were tied and forced onto the ground where their heads were joined together. The rebels tried to force me to pick up a log and hit their heads but I refused so one came for me with a knife and cut off my left ear. He accused me of being a government soldier and said that I would be finished off if I failed to smash their heads.

But then, they started smashing the people's heads themselves. I was put in the middle as they smashed the people's heads.

Abducted

At about 0700 in the morning, they led 35 of us into the bush. About five kms (approximately three miles) from the scene they began taunting me, saying that I was big-headed, and because I refused to respect them I would be cooked alive.

Map of northern Uganda showing towns Kitgum and Namkora in the Kitgum district

They kept on beating us and they denied food or water from us. We complained saying we were hungry and thirsty. They stopped raping the women that were in our group and acted as though they were going to let us eat and drink. The ladies were forced to boil water in a big tin.

Shortly after this they announced that we would eat the government soldier - supposedly, me.

For a long time, the rebels took turns at beating us men with hot metal, and raping the girls.

I was already spiritually dead.

They returned to me at some point and re-tied me before chopping off my lips. They then cut off my right ear and my nose.

Some time later their commander Joseph Kony phoned, telling them to leave the place immediately.

We were then relocated about 15km further into the bush.

Bad omen

I was bleeding. I could not cry anymore and for two days I couldn't drink water.

Joseph Kony

The rebels debated for two days whether or not I was to be killed. They told me I was a bad omen and so must suffer.

My wounds had begun to rot. The smell was so bad. But still they refused me any treatment.

Then on the seventh day, because I never expected to live, I insulted their commander in the hope that in revenge he would kill me.

He just ordered his soldiers to cut off my hands. They did.

That evening I remember seeing my fellow female abductees crying. One of them had been killed and another had had her breast cut off.

I don't know how but by what I think was the eleventh day of being abducted I was still living.

Helpless

The rebels kept telling me that I would soon be dead. They picked out two of the starving, tired girls that could hardly even walk from being repeatedly raped and ordered them to take me home.

The three of us were helpless. The girls were crying, inconsolably, when some government soldiers found us following a further night spent out in the open.

They took us straight to the nearest hospital where we received treatment. On reaching hospital, my wife came to see me with my parents, relatives and friends.

They found it hard to see me as a human being. I was rotting, smelly and deformed.

Time

My wife could not find words to speak to me. She just felt very sick.

My thoughts were filled with bitterness. I hated life and wished that I had just been killed. All I wanted was to commit suicide and die.

John Ochola and his wife Grace
John Ochola and his wife called their baby Anywar, which means an insult or an abuse

My wife started taking care of me in the hospital. I had asked her to leave me alone, explaining that because I was deformed, I couldn't be her husband anymore.

She refused. Over and over she rejected my request, saying that the baby she was carrying for us, the child we were expecting, needed a father.

She kept saying that I hadn't asked to be deformed like that and someday God would let me know why I had been put through such an ordeal.

My wife, Grace, with time helped to suppress my terrible feelings and thoughts.

When our baby boy was born, I named him Anywar, which in our Luo language means an insult or an abuse.

I named him so because of what the Lord's Resistance Army leader, Joseph Kony, did to me.

I try, but I cannot forgive, and I cannot forget.

This interview was translated by Victor Ochen of Straight Talk Foundation for the BBC News website.


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