UGANDA: Ray Apire: "Nobody wanted to be a rebel"

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Ray Apire fought for the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) for 10 years, rising to the position of major and commander, until he surrendered in 2004. Now struggling to live with the people he once terrorised, 50-year-old Apire spoke to IRIN in the northern town of Gulu:

“I was abducted by LRA rebels in 1993 from my home village of Lamola in Kitgum district with two of my brothers, but my younger brother was killed when he tried to run away.

“We were taken to Southern Sudan for training and after the training we came back to Uganda and continued with the abductions. I commanded several abductions and attacks in villages under the order of our superior Vincent Otti [late LRA deputy leader]. We operated in Gulu and Kitgum districts.

“In 2004, our base in Southern Sudan was attacked by the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) and we decided to cross back to Uganda. Life became so difficult because our group was under constant attack by the Ugandan army.

“On 26 June 2004, I surrendered to a UPDF detachment in Gulu. I had spent 10 years in the LRA and came back with three children. I had also left two children with my mother at the time of my abduction.

“I did not go through any rehabilitation centre when I surrendered. I stayed in the UPDF barracks in Gulu for some time and later decided to live a civilian life.

“People in Kitgum look angry whenever they talk about the LRA. I am scared of living among people in my village because if they get to know that I commanded the abduction of their children and other people, they would hate me or hurt me.

“That is the reason I decided to remain in Gulu. Life is different for me in Gulu because I am trying to reintegrate in a new community different from my home village in Kitgum. People in Gulu look more moderate though others still feel angry.

“A number of ex-LRA combatants are finding it hard living in their former community. Ex-LRA combatants are being stigmatised that we were killers yet we are also victims of abduction and were forced to serve in the rebel ranks. A number of male ex-combatants were abducted at a young age; nobody wanted to be a rebel. Some are so frustrated, they are bound to cause chaos. It is dangerous to keep an ex-rebel idle. Everyone is struggling on his own.

“I was given amnesty by the government and support to farm at Labora government farm in Gulu. I have 15 hectares of cassava ready for harvest. I am selling each bag of cassava at USh15,000 [US $9]. Last season I harvested five bags of rice, one lorry full of maize, five bags of sesame, and 24 bags of groundnuts. I have planted another five hectares of rice and beans. I like farming. Even in the LRA we planted so many hectares of crops in Southern Sudan.

“Other people staying near Labora are working in my garden. They help me during planting and harvesting. I give them seeds in return to help them also plant crops to feed their family. This has made my reintegration easier in Gulu.

“As an ex-LRA fighter, you need to accept the mistakes you made and repent. Even if you were abducted you must learn to live with respect so that victims can forgive you.”