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 CNS Story:

SUDAN-LRA Dec-3-2010 (800 words) With photos and map. xxxi

As Southern Sudan seeks peace, some live with nightmares of LRA terror

By Paul Jeffrey
Catholic News Service

YAMBIO, Southern Sudan (CNS) -- When Justin Isa escaped from the Lord's Resistance Army in 2004, he bore scars on his back from being beaten with machetes. Yet he also bore raw inner wounds from his 10 months in the LRA, a Ugandan rebel group turned transnational terror force that kidnaps children and turns them into brutal soldiers.

Isa was often forced to participate in the killing of other children who had been abducted, but whom LRA commanders had begun to suspect harbored negative thoughts about the armed group's mission and leaders. Sometimes the orders came directly from Joseph Kony, the spirit medium turned military commander who is wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague for crimes against humanity.

"Kony looks like a simple man. Other commanders look more responsible than he does. But in the evening he leads prayer, quoting from the Bible, and after the prayer he predicts people's lives, he describes people's sins," Isa told Catholic News Service.

"He would move among us and touch us. Sometimes when he touches you, it's to promote you. He'd say, 'This is a good person.' With others, he would touch you and say you were useless or thinking negative thoughts about the movement. Those people were immediately taken outside, and he would point to another boy, any boy, and order them to go kill the other boy. You killed them with the machete," Isa recalled.

The young man said he was constantly afraid. The fear made it difficult to talk with other youngsters.

"If you talk about escaping and the other person tries to flee and is caught, they will be tortured and will give them other names, including yours," Isa said. "So you keep quiet, and keep your thoughts about escaping to yourself."

Isa finally did escape when this unit was attacking and looting a village near the northern city of Gulu, Uganda. After hiding in the bush at night, the 15-year-old turned himself over to Ugandan soldiers, who questioned him and handed him over to the United Nations, which passed him on to a church group that provided counseling for a month.

Isa's return home to his family's thatched-roof hut in a refugee camp was dramatic. His mother had been informed that he was dead, and when she saw him alive, according to Isa, "she went crazy," and has acted abnormally ever since.

In 2008, Isa and his family returned to Southern Sudan, and he leveraged training he had received from a Catholic agricultural program in the refugee camp into a job helping a church-sponsored agricultural project in Riimenze, a village about 22 miles outside Yambio in Southern Sudan's Western Equatoria state.

Isa works with Sister Rosa Le Thi Bong, a Vietnamese member of the Australian-based Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions who coordinates a program teaching agricultural skills to members of the parish. Sister Rosa came to Southern Sudan as a member of Solidarity with Southern Sudan, an international network of dozens of religious orders and other organizations.

The region where Isa works has suffered from repeated LRA attacks in recent years, and Isa told CNS he's afraid of being abducted again. If that happens, he fears he will likely be executed as a deserter.

The day Isa was abducted, the LRA also took 11 other boys from the refugee camp. Of the 12, Isa said only three have returned alive. The others are either dead or still in the ranks of the LRA.

Isa's greatest fear, however, is not of his former captors, but rather the family of another boy who was kidnapped with him. Isa said that the day after their abduction, one boy managed to escape, but he was quickly recaptured. LRA commanders forced Isa and the other children to crush him to death as punishment.

When the dead boy's family eventually learned how the killing took place, they swore to take revenge on Isa and the other boys. So as Southern Sudan votes in January on independence and thus takes what many hope is a giant step toward peace, Isa is always looking over his shoulder.

"I can't go home and be in peace," he said. "Many of that family are planning to kill me. They know that we smashed their boy. One day they ambushed another boy who came out, but he narrowly survived. It is hard to move around, someone will come and attack me. I'm afraid to go to my family's home.

"I feel good that peace is coming to Southern Sudan, but there's no peace for me. I can't enjoy it. I have nightmares about what I lived through. I'm afraid of the LRA. And if I go home I have to worry about people who don't like me. I have to worry they're going to come get me."


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