Uganda survivors face grisly aftermath

A burned hut smoulders in the refugee camp which was attacked, near the town of Lira.

Many victims were burned alive in their grass huts Barlonyo camp in northern Uganda, the scene of rebel attacks at the weekend, is now practically empty. The only people there are people who have come to bury their dead, or look for food.

George Okello, 23, has come with his brother, Tom, to bury his father. They are motorbike taxi drivers in Lira town and on Sunday they buried their mother in the trenches surrounding the camp. Now they say they will bury their father under the collapsed walls of the mud hut he lived in.

When asked how he feels about the attack, Okello says he cannot feel anything.


The camp, which once housed 4,000 people, is now practically deserted. Only the walls remain of the grass thatched huts. At 1700 local time, rebels from Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) surrounded the camp, lighting the roofs of the cramped huts and creating a fire which lasted all night.

Then they killed about 200 people.

Mary Josco Akoli ran from the camp as rebels came with machetes, rocket-propelled grenades and "big guns". Ms Akoli's son, a militiaman defending the camp, was "slaughtered", while three of her grandchildren were burnt to death. She ran to a nearby trading centre, returning only now to search for food.

Local militias

Smoke still rises in the camp, which is scattered with charred remains.

It was too fast - they [had] big guns... there were bullets everywhere
Local militiaman

Some of the dead have been buried in trenches, others lie hastily buried beneath the fallen walls of mud huts. The dry season has made the ground hard and it is hard to dig deep graves.

The remains of a woman lie under a lemon tree covered with grass, while one man's body lies covered by a papyrus mat, buzzing with flies. A lone dog searches the camp.

Joseph Kony's LRA has abducted children and adults to use as sex slaves, porters and soldiers in northern Uganda for some 17 years.

The attack has highlighted the government's use of hastily-trained and unpaid local militia groups instead of the Uganda People's Defence Force (UPDF). At Barlonyo there were 30 Amuka, a local militia named after the white rhino. They had an AK-47 each and six weeks of training. They arrived in the camp on 15 December to replace the local UPDF command.

Fleeing flames

Kajoka Boniface, 21, one of the militia, spoke to me. "It was too fast. They [had] big guns... there were bullets everywhere," he said.

In the children's ward of Lira hospital, Ogwang Vincent holds the hand of his five-year-old sister, Akello Dorcus. He found her at the camp on Sunday lying between the dead bodies of his mother and father, her head hacked by a machete. Nekodina Auma, lying on a mat in the floor of the hospital, tells me how she was in her hut when it caught fire. Fleeing the flames, she was shot in the base of her spine and is now paralysed from the waist down.

Five of her eight children were burnt to death and her husband lies in another hospital ward, recovering from a gunshot wound.

Little consolation

The official Ugandan response is to play down the attack, stressing instead the victories the army has achieved in recent weeks. On Tuesday, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni told journalists that the attack was due to lack of co-ordination between the UPDF and militia.

The local army commander has since been recalled to headquarters in Kampala. He stresses that the army has killed 146 rebels in the past month, while nearly 50 more have defected. He disputes militia claims that the rebels arrived with big guns.

For the people who lost family and friends in the attack, this will offer little consolation.

Florence Akello in Lira hospital spoke of her life after the attack. "We have no clothing, no bedding, no food, no cooking utensils," she told me.

"As for my feelings [about the attack], I cannot express myself."

NEXT: THE AFTERMATH IN PHOTOS ------------------>

By Orla Ryan BBC, northern Uganda

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