NAIROBI, Kenya — President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda claimed victory Thursday against a rebel army of brainwashed children fighting a 17-year guerrilla war in the north of the country, a war with no discernable aims.
In a New Year address, Museveni told his people that the Lord’s Resistance Army had been “defeated decisively.” He said his forces were on the verge of killing the rebel leader, Joseph Kony.
But evidence to support Museveni’s boast is scant.
This week, Lord’s Resistance Army fighters burst into a refugee camp supposedly under army protection and burnt three old men to death.
A recent army offensive has had only limited success; in December, government troops killed a total of six rebels, captured seven and rescued 56 children.
In the past year the Lord’s Resistance Army has abducted over 8,000 children, almost as many as it seized over the previous decade, spiriting them away to Kony’s camps in the bush. There they are indoctrinated into the ways of his bizarre cult.
The girls, many under the age of 10, are forced to become the sex slaves of adult fighters, the boys to maim and kill their more recalcitrant friends before being turned out to prey on local communities.
The Lord’s Resistance Army focuses most of its murderous campaign on fellow members of the Acholi tribe. It built itself up while Museveni’s soldiers busied themselves plundering the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda’s giant western neighbor.
Seemingly at will, the movement now terrorizes the camps the government set up to house a million people who fled their homes and has penetrated farther south than ever before.
The president has obtained new equipment for his army, ranging from assault helicopters to night-vision goggles.
Museveni himself came to power as a guerrilla in 1986.