The memory of a small but fanatical rebel group still casts a long shadow across the war-ravaged communities of northern Uganda. Long after it was driven out, many people still live in terror at the very mention of its name.
This is the story of Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army and those it left behind – from children forced to become soldiers to civilians caught up in the conflict.
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Norman Okello was abducted at just 12 years old. Still only a child, he was forced to kill and maim for the LRA.
Reunited with his family as a teenager, the former child soldier tells of the constant struggle he faced to hold on to his humanity.
It was the LRA's grotesque calling card – the hacking away of lips, ears, noses, hands and feet with machetes, scissors and knives.
Spreading terror, mutilation strengthened the LRA's control and deterred the population from helping government forces.
First suffering unimaginable agony, then later discrimination from their communities, the maimed victims rarely had access to hospitals or clinics. Cheap pain killers or local herbs were the only relief they could find.
The LRA continues this gruesome practice wherever it strikes.
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Mariano Obiba, 64, and Santina Acaa, 55, scarcely recognised their son Norman Okello when he reappeared two years after being abducted as a child by the LRA.
‘We thought we had seen him for the last time,’ said Mariano.
Readjustment was hard, says Santina. ‘He really wanted things to be done his way, to his rules. One day, he kicked his younger sister almost into the fire.’
‘They took the human life out of him and made him behave like an animal.’
‘He told me that he acted that way because he had seen so many dead bodies, too much blood and pain. These pictures played in his head on a loop.’
Gradually Norman, who now has two children, began to improve. ‘He's taking charge of the whole family and teaching the little ones to grow up in a good way, to study hard to become somebody in future – the person he wanted to be.’
‘The LRA slaughtered 17 members of my extended family in one afternoon in December 1991,’ says 72-year-old Martin Olanya.
‘I want the terrible acts that were committed here to never be forgotten.’
A 30-strong rebel group had emerged from the papyrus grasses at the edge of the village. When the killing stopped, more than 100 villagers lay dead.
‘We found many bodies piled up together – including four new-born babies among the corpses. More than 40 children were taken away by the LRA that day.
‘Even now I still feel a lot of anger. Maybe it is just too much to see the faces of returned child soldiers when your heart and mind are not yet mended.
‘Until today, nobody has ever come to write my story down. It helps for someone to listen – that way our family members are not forgotten.’
Dorina Adjero's husband, Luzy, 41, and youngest son Ben, 20, were bludgeoned to death with wooden posts in the same attack that killed Martin Olanya's family.
Dorina said: ‘By sharing my experiences, I at least feel some ease in my heart. It will relieve me of all the bad inside.
‘I don't remember the rebels' faces but I know that there were many of them, and there were some very young, very thin boys with them.’
‘Their faces just seemed blank; they were like spirits living in another world.’
‘The rebels were singing while they killed my family. One even smiled at me – they seemed to enjoy what they were doing. They wanted to destroy everything.
‘I am still scared even though Kony isn't here anymore. I believe he is possessed by evil spirits. He does things no other human would ever do – he is a monster.’
Bob Acaye, 27, a research assistant at the National Memory and Peace Documentation Centre in Kitgum, was a ‘night wanderer’ during the LRA's reign of terror.
Along with hundreds of other children he would regularly travel into Kitgum town centre to sleep in ‘safe houses’.
‘It wasn't safe for us to sleep in the suburbs or villages because Kony would come to loot and abduct children.’
‘Kony was like a dark shadow... the fear was always there, every single day.’
‘My father had a warehouse where we went for protection. We lived this way for nearly five years. It was hot and tiny, and the smell was terrible.’
Bob says the abducted children and adults who remain missing still haunt people.
‘Many parents hope their children will come back. Documenting their experiences... will help future generations and it has not been for nothing.’
Deo Komakech is a ‘massacre scoper’ in northern Uganda. His team's extensive research and precise mapping of atrocities committed by the LRA and the government of Uganda is helping to capture the lost voices of those caught up in the terror.
Deo's work at the National Memory and Peace Documentation Centre is funded by the Kampala-based Refugee Law Project, which seeks to ensure human rights for refugees and displaced people and address the legacy of conflict. It also plans to provide reconstructive surgery for some of those mutilated by the LRA.
The LRA is just one of many armed groups operating in war torn parts of Central Africa. In recent years it has been active in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic and South Sudan.
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