Printer Friendly

Kony is softly spoken, almost a whisper, so I did not feel scared of him at first.. then I found out that this was how he usually gave his orders to kill - VICTIM'S CHILLING VERDICT; GIRL WHO BABYSAT FOR UGANDA'S PSYCHOTIC WARLORD; EXCLUSIVE.

Byline: TOM PARRY in Gulu, Uganda t.parry@mirror.co.uk

AS a babysitter to the many children of Africa's most dangerous warlord, Grace Olara learned quickly to hold her tongue even in the face of appalling acts of atrocity.

Grace was just 11 when she was forced to watch her parents being shot dead and was kidnapped from her village by the Lord's Resistance Army.

She had to care for LRA leader Joseph Kony's children - born to some of his 60 captured wives - and would tremble in fear as she heard him order how he wanted victims tortured.

She would then have to look on as her friends were horrifically beaten by Kony's henchmen.

Initially, Grace had no idea that Kony, wanted by the International Criminal Court for mass murder, abduction and mutilation, could be so evil.

She says: "Kony would just appear from nowhere. He always moves around. He is a softly-spoken man - it is almost as if he whispers, so I did not feel scared of him at first.

"Afterwards I found out that this was how he usually gave his orders to kill, by whispering in the ear of one of his commanders.

"I would look away whenever he walked in. I didn't want to speak to him in case what I said offended him. All it would take was one wrong word and he would have had me killed.

"I believe he would have ordered the murders of the children, too.

His own kids would shriek in fear at even the prospect of being cuddled by their dad.

Today 25-year-old Grace, mother to two children from a forced relationship with one of Kony's generals, wanders around a rehab centre for child soldiers in Gulu, northern Uganda.

Physically and emotionally scarred, she only fled Kony's clutches last year.

Captive daughter Akello, nine, and son Obedigu, five, were also victims of the living nightmare.

Grace was one of 30,000 children kidnapped in this part of Uganda. As a girl, she was expected to be both a fighter and a domestic slave.

"In battle I was not treated differently but I did have a lot of extra domestic duties," Grace recalls.

"At the camp a commander made me look after his children. After that I had to look after Kony's too. He had many kids to many different women.

"I also had to act as a decoy when the LRA ambushed villages. I'd be sent in to talk to people, then they'd move in behind me and start killing."

GRACE stares firmly at the floor as she describes the bloody battles that she was forced to take part in. "The first time I was given a gun I was just 14 years old," she murmurs.

"At the beginning I was a little fearful, but then it just became normal.

"I have no idea how many people I might have killed. Often it would be in the crossfire and I would be firing. We never searched for bodies - we just moved on.

"It was so tough travelling around with a baby strapped to my back.

"I would also have to carry guns, and often bombs too.

"I was only 16 and we were always on the move. We survived by picking off wild fruit as we walked. I was drained but had to go on.

"Later on I would have an rocketpropelled grenade launcher on my shoulder and my children struggling to keep up behind me."

It seems improbable that this lost young woman is a seasoned war veteran. Yet the LRA has been in a conflict with the Ugandan government since the 1980s.

Kony, thought to be hiding in the Central African Republic, has created a mystical aura around himself. His brainwashed followers obey strict rituals which Kony tells them are based on the Ten Commandments.

In reality, he has used the Bible to justify a reign of terror stretching into neighbouring South Sudan for the past three decades.

Kony, 51, who was born near Gulu, was indicted in 2005 on 12 counts of crimes against humanity and 21 counts of war crimes.

Despite a well-publicised US-based campaign to bring him to justice last year, he has evaded capture. No one is better qualified than Grace to testify to his appalling disregard for human life.

"I was 11 years old when I was kidnapped," Grace recalls, her voice faint. "We had gone to hide in the forest. All of us knew they were in the area and that if we stayed at home we would be taken.

"But the men forced some of the other people in the village to reveal where we were. They were so stealthy we didn't hear them walking up behind us. One of the men held a gun to my head and forced me back to the clearing in our village.

"Then I had to watch as they shot my parents dead right in front of me. I collapsed to the ground but they made me get up, they pulled me to my feet. I wanted to die too, I was so distraught."

Grace also recalls how she was forced into a relationship with the father of her children.

SHE recalls she did not want to see the man. "But when I told Kony that I was not going to go, he ordered some boys to beat me with sticks.

"This went on for three hours. So I felt like I had no choice but to live with the man. I came to terms with it and we became a couple. Some time later, I became pregnant and gave birth to my daughter."

Grace managed to escape last year when she was badly wounded after her LRA unit was shelled by Ugandan government forces.

Shrapnel in her leg was only recently removed but luckily the children survived. Limping from the rainforest to surrender, Grace sought sanctuary with her sole surviving relative, her grandmother. But she did not receive a warm welcome.

"My grandmother will not have us because she is ashamed of my children being born in captivity," she says. "She is ashamed of me, too. She seems to think I deliberately joined the LRA. I was kidnapped but she does not want to listen to me."

Grace has found a home at World Vision's Children of War Rehabilitation Centre. It is supposed to be a temporary refuge where child soldiers go through therapy and learn new skills. But many, like Grace, have nowhere else to turn.

After decades of bloodshed, the people of northern Uganda have begun to extend the hand of forgiveness to their former tormentors.

TO make a donation to the charity, go to www.worldvision.org.uk or call 01908 841000.

THE WARLORD

One wrong word and he would have had me killed.. he would have ordered the murders of the children, too KIDNAPPED GRACE OLARA "I kidnapped," I've no idea how many people I might have killed. We never searched for bodies; we just moved on EX CHILD SOLDIER GRACE OLARA

CAPTION(S):

SURVIVORS Z Grace cuddles her daughter Akello and son Obedigu at the centre LIFE OF TERROR Grace is still haunted by the killings

Pictures: ROWAN GRIFFITHS
COPYRIGHT 2013 MGN LTD
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2013 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Features; Opinion, Column
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:6UGAN
Date:Sep 17, 2013
Words:1202
Previous Article:CRISIS TO RIVAL SYRIA.
Next Article:A View to Achill; FILM CHIEFS HUNT IRISH LOCATIONS FOR BOND.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters