KMPALA, July 13 (Reuters) – Hundreds of former Ugandan rebels from the shadowy Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) were inducted into the East African country’s army on Tuesday, an army spokesman said.
The 300 former rebel fighters had surrendered to government troops fighting the cult-like group in an 18-year-old conflict that has forced some 1.6 million people to flee their homes in Uganda’s remote northern districts.
“Since April we have been giving them military and political training,” army spokesman Lieutenant Paddy Ankunda told Reuters by telephone from the northern town of Gulu.
“We are just trying to re-orientate them,” he added.
Despite the atrocities against civilians carried out by the rebels, Ugandan army officials said the former combatants deserved a chance to start a new life.
The LRA, led by self-proclaimed mystic and former altar boy Joseph Kony, is notorious for its brutality.
It routinely targets unarmed civilians, slices off the lips and ears of its victims and has kidnapped tens of thousands of children as fighters, porters and sex slaves.
But Ugandan army chiefs say the group is short of supplies following a deal in 2002 between Kampala and Khartoum that lets Ugandan forces attack rebel bases in neighbouring southern Sudan.
Increasing numbers of LRA have surrendered in the last few months, many saying they are desperate for food and medicine.
Several former rebels have appeared on radio programmes to encourage other LRA fighters to come out of the bush and take advantage of a government amnesty offer.
But the army — and the former rebels — say there is little chance of Kony or other top commanders surrendering.
Former rebels have said Kony is dedicated to ruling the country under a system based on the biblical 10 commandments, but most Ugandans say the LRA appears to have no clear aims beyond overthrowing President Yoweri Museveni’s government.
Government officials often say they are close to winning the war, but attacks on civilian targets continue.
In the most recent LRA raid, local officials said four children were among 11 people killed on Saturday in Lira district.