Bloodied Ugandans recall night of terror

LIRA, Uganda, Nov 19 (Reuters) – The battered survivors of Uganda’s latest bloodletting lay moaning or unconscious in a hospital overflowing with wounded on Wednesday after being chopped, bludgeoned or shot by northern rebels.

Head swathed in bandages and breathing with difficulty, Raymond Opero, 45, has not regained consciousness since being beaten by rebels who burst into his house in the early hours of Tuesday at Ngetta village, near the northern town of Lira.

Six of the veterinary assistant’s children were abducted by the rebels who also hacked his eldest son Ferdinal to death.

Opero’s wife Lilly offered the attackers money to spare their lives and managed to flee as rebels swarmed around their small single storey house. But the attempt to bargain with them fell on deaf ears, her brother-in-law Alphonse Owing said.

“‘We did not come for money, we came for killing,’” Owing quoted one of the attackers as saying.

The raiders belonged to the cult-like Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), notorious for slicing off the lips and limbs of their victims.

They killed 17 people in the attack by bludgeoning their heads with wooden sticks, government officials said. But witnesses said up to 53 villagers had been killed in the raid on several villages.

For 17 years the LRA has waged war against the government, snatching tens of thousands of children from villages and forcing them to work as frontline soldiers, cooks and sex slaves.

The movement numbers at least 3,000 fighters, the bulk of them children. It has never spelt out its demands in public.

SLEEP IN THE BUSH

Owing, staring sadly at his brother’s gashed and swollen face, said Opero’s mistake was to spend the night in his house, when the wisest strategy was to sleep in the bush to avoid becoming one of the LRA’s victims.

“Me and my family were hiding that night and so we were not attacked. When you are in northern Uganda you must be sure to sleep in the bush,” he said.

Tens of thousands of people living near Lira flock every evening to its pavements and verandas, where they are under the protection of the Ugandan army.

The farming town’s normal population of up to 100,000 people swells to two or three times that number overnight.

On the floor near Opero a man who has been unconscious for a week shivered and turned fitfully as a relative stroked his back in an effort to comfort him.

A man wounded in the same attack drew back his gown to reveal a severed penis, blown off by an LRA bullet.

“Our soldiers here fear those rebels,” said Geoffrey Owiny, 22, a student beaten and left for dead in the attack on Ngetta village.

“The army just seems to dodge the LRA. I think we need to start using soldiers from outside (abroad).”

The LRA abducted one of Owiny’s sisters in 1995 and kidnapped one of his brothers last year. He has seen neither of them since.

ANXIOUS VILLAGERS SEEK SHELTER

Having spoken sitting up in his bed, Owiny slumped back on a pillow and watched nurses and relatives tend injured patients in the ward, where a lack of space meant some patients had to lie on sheets spread out on the stone floor.

Nurses said the 282 bed hospital was treating at least twice that number of patients because of the daily inflow of wounded from night-time attacks that began in the area earlier this year.

As the sun begun to set on Lira on Wednesday, thousands of villagers anxiously seeking shelter filled the streets. Angry and apprehensive, they unpacked bedrolls and bundles of belongings on grass verges and pavements.

At a rehabilitation centre for former LRA child soldiers, a display of pictures drawn by the inmates recalling their time as LRA captives displayed chilling images of killing and torture.

“I am not your friend. My name is Scorpion,” read the speech bubble in one child’s picture, an image of a senior LRA man thrusting a knife into the head of a child.

A million people have been displaced during the fighting.

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