SUDAN-UGANDA: Justin Okot: "I was forced to be an LRA rebel for seven years"

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Twenty-year-old Justin Okot has been a prisoner-of-war at the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) barracks in the town of Yei, South Sudan, since February, when he was captured with a group of rebels from the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). Okot told IRIN the LRA abducted him from his home in Gulu, northern Uganda, in 2000.

"I was sleeping at night when they came to take me; my brothers were also in the room, but I was the oldest so they only took me.

“Soon after I was taken, I was shot in the thigh and could not fight. I spent some time with the disabled until I got healed; they treated my wounds with local herbs.

“The commanders never told us why we were fighting, only that we would not die in the bush if we followed instructions. We saw them give speeches to senior officers, but we were not allowed to listen.

“The rebels use bayonets and sticks to kill people. Sometimes they broke people's necks by hitting them with the back of a gun; I also saw people whose lips were cut off.

“If you try to escape, they definitely kill you - so many people have been killed trying to escape. If you get too tired to walk, or too sick to work, they kill you.

“When I was captured, we were brought to Owiny Ki-Bul [assembly point for the rebels during peace talks in Juba, South Sudan, with the Uganda government], but after a while we were told to leave. As we ran across the road, the SPLA stopped us, but our commander began shooting at them. The SPLA shot back and I was hit by a bullet and brought here.

“Since I came here, the Ugandan army has been trying to get me sent back to Uganda; they think I am an important LRA commander who is also called Okot, but I am not the one. The Okot they want is a Captain ... I had no rank, I was just a private. The SPLA has so far refused to send me there.

“Even if you freed me now, I would not go back to the rebels. My wish is to find my family in Gulu. By the time I was abducted my father had already died, but I hope my mother and brothers are still there. I also need to finish school; I was in Primary Seven.

“Since I came out of the bush I have been reading the papers, so I know there are peace talks going on, but I don't know what will happen to me; whether I will ever be allowed to have a normal life."

Source: IRIN