Monday, September 11, 2006

Nasty memories of Barlonyo massacre still live on


The year 2004 massacre will forever leave bad memories to the people of the war-tone Northern Uganda. On the nightfall of February 21, 2004, an estimated 300 people lost their lives following an attack by the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) rebels on the Barlonyo Internally Displaced Person’s (IDP) camp, in Lira district.
Blood flowed in the camp as dead bodies piled up, one against another, and local administrators were stopped from accessing the premises of the IDP camp. According to the Lira District Woman Member of Parliament, Amuge Rebecca Otengo the atrocity is still a nightmare.
The massacre came a week after some other people had been killed and Lira locals were still recovering from the deaths in Abia in Moroto country where prayers were held. Barlonyo camp was home to 4,800 people.

A night’s sad tale
At approximately 5p.m, the Lord’s Resistance (LRA) rebels integrated themselves into the local community. The locals could hardly recognise them since they were dressed in brand new Amuka uniform. There was market place that day and most of the men had gone out to take part. Most of those who had remained behind where women, children and the aged. Barlonyo camp was full of house and huts.
At nightfall, the rebels began their attacks. There was a barracks in the camp and when the attacks began, the rebels fired at barracks first before they descended onto the wanainchi. The people in Lira town only heard about the attack the next morning (Tuesday 22nd), from the army in town, which had been notified.
“When we came down, we thought there could have been minimally 10-20 people killed. As we approached, we realised the atmosphere was very tense. The army stopped us from getting in even after introducing ourselves. There was general confusion and disorder. When we asked about how many people had been killed, they told us only 84. We finally forced our way through,” the vice Chairman Lira district, Tony Ogwang Adwari recounts.
In the camp, dead bodies were scattered, some wheezing with blood. Some were heaped and still burned.
“One UPDF officer, Colonel Otema Awany ordered for the immediate burial of the corpses. We counted 68 people and were stopped. There was a lorry carrying dead bodies of army officers. One Amuka soldier called us aside and cautioned us that the rebels had planted a landmine near the borehole. We came into disagreement with the UPDF officers there and left at 2p.m,” Ogwang continues.
The rebels had taken with them some properties. In one hut a kid died in the embrace of his mother. Some people were buried in the wreckages of their houses/huts. The survivors had to be transferred to other camps. After the massacre, wild dogs had become so rampant. Those who had managed to make it to Lira hospital were a bit lucky. The medical personnel, at the time, dealt with 75% cases of burnt people.
The president visited the area and Amuge quotes him to have apologised to the locals on behalf of the UPDF army. She quotes him as having remarked that there had been some mistakes and promised it would never happen again. He henceforth donated 5 million to help the victims. He also laid a memorial stone on one of the mass graves in the camp.
As Lira leaders, they had to work together irrespective of political and any differences whatsoever. They worked with the army. Meanwhile, they were also underwent some military training and dressed in military attire and had to heed whenever called upon by the army.
Until recently, the road that led to Barlonyo was in poor shape. It stretches for a number of kilometres before you can reach the camp. The Get on Board bus stopped at the camp where a monument has been erected on a mass grave for scores people massacred by rebels in 2004.
Along the road was a school with primary students carrying placards carrying different strong messages about war, peace, dejection and reconciliation. Most of the learning centres were destroyed during the massacre. Many locals here say the both parties ought to be serious about achievement of peace.

Hope at last?!
In their opening speech at the on-going Juba peace talks, the LRA recognised that Uganda has continued to suffer from political haemorrhage for the better part of its post-colonial history.
“Innocent blood has been spilled, social and economic progress has stagnated, there is political imbalance and disunity in the country. Our national pride and sovereignty has been subjugated and traded off cheaply for the political convenience and economic benefit of a few; and the principles of democratic practice and good governance are in shambles….. The regime in Kampala has all along found it fashionable to blame all these on others,” their speech reads.
However, the group said they would use the opportunity to explain the root causes of the war to those who are genuinely concerned about the conflict in northern Uganda, its manifestations and ramifications. They also added that they would give their side of the story against what they described as extremely negative and malicious distortions, misinformation and outright lies about the role of the NRM/A in the conflict, and to a no less extent, against the people of Northern Uganda.
The LRA also promised to commit themselves to the peace negotiations for the attainment of a just and lasting peace. M.P Amuge Rebecca Otengo, who was at the Juba talks during the initial stages with religious leaders from the region, says they are praying for the realisation a comprehensive peace building and reconciliation programme.
“On the other hand, although many victims and so many humans rights organisations have come out with clear evidence implicating the UPDF in complicity in the atrocities in Northern and Eastern Uganda, neither the UN nor or International Criminal Court (ICC) has raised a finger against commanders of the UPDF. Where is the justice and fairness about UN and its agencies including the ICC? the rebels question.


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