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Mutilated by the LRA

By Mike Thomson
The Today Programme, Gulu northern Uganda

Lawill Concy
WARNING: Some people may find this interview distressing.

The fate that befell 42-year-old Lawill Concy at the hands of the notorious Lords Resistance Army, happened more than a decade ago, but its effects have never left her.

"We left town to buy cassava at a place near Gulu (in northern Uganda). All of a sudden we came across some LRA rebels. They came over and ordered us to come with them," she tells me.

Lawill and 10 other local women were taken into the forest and paraded before three LRA commanders. Beside the men, on a long wooden bench, was a machete.

What followed next was horrific. It explains why the Lord's Resistance Army, or LRA, which has since gone on to murder, maim and abduct people across three neighbouring countries, is the most feared militia in Africa.

"One of the commanders asked a young boy at the back of the room to come over," she remembers. "They told him to show us how sharp the machete was and what damage it could do. The commander then looked at all of us and said: 'Don't cry or scream when the knife comes or you'll be killed straight away.'"

At this point, Lawill, the wife of a church minister in Gulu, pauses for a few seconds, her right hand trembling slightly, and then slowly continues.

Boy living in fear of the LRA

"The boy then reached forward and cut off my friend's lips followed by her ears. Then he pushed the blade into her mouth and told her to bite on it. She did this. All the time she hardly made a sound. Then they motioned for me to come over to the boy… and he did the same to me."

With only a small paraffin lamp to light her small family home it is hard to see the damage done by the boy with knife. But as she leans forward to sip some water the result of her ordeal, as well as that of nine other women, is plain to see.

Lawill is not sure how old the young boy ordered to wield the machete on her was but thinks may could have been 12-years-old or less. This is something he will have to live with too.

A short distance away a young man, now in his twenties, recounts how he was abducted by the LRA at the same age of 12. Richard Ocitti, who is softly spoken with a gentle face, saw his father shot in front of him before being forced into the bush.

During the following three years Richard says he was trained to rob, kill and obey whatever the LRA told him to do.

Former LRA child soldier Richard Ocitti
WARNING: Some people may find this interview distressing.

On one occasion this included being ordered to beat to death a childhood friend of his, with the help of the boy's sister, after he had been caught trying to escape.

"He was a good friend, but we were forced to kill him. We used a machete. You see, there was no way out because senior soldiers were standing there with a gun. So, you have to do it and rescue your life."

Did this boy appeal to you?

"So much, so much, many times."

Struggling with his emotions at times, Richard went on to outline how the LRA's leader, Joseph Kony, had once ordered him and other abducted children to take part in a massacre in Northern Uganda. "Kony ordered that he didn't want to see any living human beings in that area," he adds.

The LRA believed that people in a Ugandan village they had surrounded had given information about them to government forces.

"Some people were killed, using axes and machetes. Others were burned in their house by his order.

Sometimes I had nightmares, people pleading for their lives to me.
Former LRA child soldier Richard Ocitti

"He didn't want to see any living beings. So, even goats were killed because we are following the orders that not any living beings were to be left alive in that village."

Richard also remembers often witnessing the sort of mutilations suffered by Lawill Concy, though insists he never actually took part in any of them. He escaped physically unharmed three years later, but still struggles mentally with the memories of what he was forced, at such a young age, to do.

"At first when I first came back home it was really, really difficult. Sometimes I had nightmares, people pleading for their lives to me," he explains.

"One thing I've been doing is to pray. I've been used by other people just like a stick for beating a snake. So after the snake is dead they throw the stick away. I only pray that God forgive me for that. I still feel for them…I feel it really… if I am to kill them… I feel it so much."

Deserted Congolese village
Deserted: The LRA campaign has led many Congolese villagers to flee

Lawill Concy says there is little she can do about the physical scars of her ordeal. But, she has largely recovered from the mental ones that left her unable to leave the walls of her family home for several years.

With Richard Ocitti so desperate to be forgiven for the brutal acts he was made to commit as a child, how would Lawill react, I asked, if she ever saw the boy who scarred her for life on that terrible day?

"Now I'm ready to forgive him and the others. But if I'd come across any of them before, I'd have killed them for what they did to me. But now I have put myself in the hands of God.

"The Bible says we should forgive one another. So, I'm ready to forgive them all."

The International Criminal Court has, however, made clear that it will not forgive the LRA's leader, Joseph Kony, and his four top commanders. All stand accused of killing and maiming thousands of people across four countries, as well as abducting 60,000 children in Uganda alone.

But the ICC will have to catch them first. Unfortunately this looks no nearer to happening than it did more than 23 years ago when the LRA first took up arms, and their brutality continues.

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