Hundreds of Acholi wept and ululated at Gulu airport yesterday as they welcomed 77 of their sons and daughters flown in from Juba after the UPDF rescued them in Sudan.
Most of the returnees were two-week old babies and 24-year olds. They emerged out of a Sudanese plane that touched down at 11:29am.
Most of Kony’s 13 children with four of their mothers and others were carried out of the plane by sympathisers because they were too weak to walk.
Three of the women broke down in tears when they saw former fellow captives ululating in ecstasy.
Former abducted boys and girls from the reception centres of two charities, GUSCO and World Vision, accompanied by a larakaraka youth dance troupe, welcomed the returnees home.
Top UPDF officers in northern Uganda, officials from International Organisation for Migration (IOM), UNICEF, UN-OCHA, Gulu Support the Children Organisation (GUSCO), World Vision, CARE, Save the Children in Uganda, CRS, Caritas, Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative, Acholi Elders Forum and resident district commissioners from Gulu and Lira welcomed the group back home.
The children, in clean clothes, wore bright faces and spoke fluent Acholi as they carried cold drinks, biscuits and chocolates from the plane.
Among the mothers were Rose Aciro, looking nice with braided hair, and Nighty Arach, two of LRA chief Joseph Kony’s wives.
Former LRA commanders and fighters led by Brig. Kenneth Banya and Maj. Phillips Okello identified the women.
After brief speeches of welcome by officials from IOM, Gulu district and the Amnesty Commission, the children were briefly taken to the UPDF’s Child Protection Unit in the dilapidated Presidential Lodge before boarding a bus to the World Vision and GUSCO reception and counselling centres.
Gulu RDC Max Omeda said, “On behalf of the President of Uganda, I welcome all of you back home. You were abducted by rebels of the LRA. Feel at home. You have been rescued.”
He told the children that they were safe and out of danger of re-abduction.
“If any of you was injured, that could have been by stray bullets during the crossfire between the UPDF and the LRA rebels in rescuing you,” Omeda said.
“The mission of the army was not to kill you but to rescue and bring you back home safely, so feel free,” the RDC added.
The head of Gulu and Kitgum IOM sub-offices, Stephen Edyegu, said it was yet another historic occasion to witness the repatriation of 77 Ugandans.
“This is a blessing from God we have again seen today, and I hope with this continued trend we shall achieve our goal of receiving all our children back home as the war nears its end. We are committed, in partnership with other organisations, to return home all Ugandan nationals still abroad home,” Edyegu said.
The Amnesty Commissioner in Gulu, Sister Mary Oker, applauded the UPDF for hunting down the rebels and rescuing abducted children.
She thanked the Sudan government for allowing the UPDF to hunt for Joseph Kony deep inside Sudan.
Gulu vice-chairman Paul Kerobino-Ojok said it was time all Ugandans united to bring peace in the country.
“Forget whatever you experienced at the hands of the LRA,” Ojok said.