Monday, November 01, 2004

Radio as an ICT

UGANDA: Radio programme that touches hearts of rebels

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

GULU, 1 November (IRIN) - Johny Lacambel, a local radio presenter, offers
his two guests some soda before asking the tall dark male with an
amputated limb to lead in prayers as the programme begins. The
trice-weekly "Dwog Paco", the local Acholi language for "Come Back Home,"
is credited with touching many hearts and convincing a number of rebels to

The amputee is Charles Otim Mono, 33, a Lt-Col in the Lord's Resistance
Army (LRA), a rebel group that has been battling government forces in the
north of the country for the past 18 years.

A girl with a pensive look sits next to Otim, seemingly amused by what is
going on. She is Lilly Acira, a rebel fighter, who, like thousands of
children in this region, was kidnapped at the age of 10 years to join the
rebel ranks.

The two were guests for the one-and-a-half hour programme on local radio,
MEGA FM, whose coverage beams across northern Uganda and some parts of
southern Sudan. It is used for former rebels to talk directly to their
colleagues still in the bush about how they have been treated and the
existence of the amnesty given to them by the government.

Acira describes rebel life as being underlined by hunger, which has forced
rebels to feed on leaves; isolation and some times death, before she
appeals to friends still hiding in the bush to give themselves up.

"To our commander Anywa, Evelyn your wife is with us, but she got injuries
in the arms and the breasts," Acira said. "You need to come out and meet

"And to you Vincent Otti (LRA's second in command) - I am your sister,"
she continues. "We come from the same family. One of your wives was
injured during a helicopter raid. I talked to her a few minutes before she
died and the fate of two of your other wives and the escort is not known."

The army and the radio management bring captured rebels on air. Sometimes
they are surrendered rebels or those rescued from rebel captivity. So far,
the highest-ranking LRA rebel that the programme has hosted was Brig
Kenneth Banya, who was the third in command in the LRA hierarchy. The
Ugandan army captured Banya in July.

"When you listen to the children, they are more passionate and they talk
to the heart about their experience in captivity and as rebel fighters,"
Lucy Lapoti, who was doing interpretation for IRIN, said.

Army spokesman Maj Shaban Bantariza calls it "communicating

Lacambel calls his programme the only peace talks with the rebels, who
have eluded efforts to peacefully end the brutal rebellion that has killed
hundreds of thousands of people and whose main victims are children and

"The impact has been good. It undermines LRA's propaganda that suggests we
kill those we capture, rescue or those who surrender to us," Maj Bantariza

Scores of other LRA members - from adolescent foot soldiers to senior
commanders - have been sneaking away in recent months. The military says
that at least 1,000 LRA fighters, including 84 commanders, have defected
since January, which is dramatically weakening the LRA.

The army's Children Protection Unit (CPU), housed in a dilapidated
building in Gulu, is where all those rescued, captured or surrendered
people are taken for screening before they are rehabilitated. When IRIN
visited the unit, 10 juveniles as young as 12, including two girls, were
being screened.

"I was abducted in 2002 when the rebels attacked Anaka camp," Joel Oloya,
13, said. He took advantage of the darkness after sunset to crawl back

Relief agencies estimate that 20,000 children have been abducted by the
LRA to serve as fighters since the movement began. Most of them are used
as porters or sex slaves for rebel commanders.

[This Item is Delivered to the "Africa-English" Service of the UN's IRIN
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