Senate Panel Hears from LRA Victims; Examines US Efforts to Counter Rebels

Posted April 25th, 2012 at 6:15 am (UTC-5)
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A U.S. Senate subcommittee listened to testimony Tuesday from two people abducted as children by the rebel Lord's Resistance Army, during a hearing on U.S. efforts to counter the group in central Africa.

Jolly Okot, who is now a regional ambassador for the advocacy group Invisible Children, told lawmakers about being tortured and raped after she was abducted, and fighting alongside the rebels.

“As much as I try to transform my community in a different way, I'm still filled with guilt of what I did more than 20 years ago as a child and as a child soldier.”

An official with the U.S. Agency for International Development told the panel about projects aimed protecting civilians, including developing an early warning system to alert villages that an attack may be on the way. Earl Gast, the agency's assistant administrator for Africa, said the State Department will be working on the warning system with 24 communities in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Okot said that kind of alert would have saved her from being abducted.

“The information would have come to me early enough and then I would have hid. If I had a communication that could stop me from going out, I wouldn't have suffered as a girl.”

Deputy Secretary of State for African Affairs Donald Yamamoto highlighted a four-part U.S. strategy, which in addition to protecting civilians includes capturing LRA leader Joseph Kony, supporting the reintegration of LRA fighters and continuing humanitarian relief.

Kony is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The LRA has killed and mutilated tens of thousands of people over the past two decades and is notorious for kidnapping children to use as soldiers and sex slaves.

Jacob Acaye, who was abducted by the LRA at age 12, stressed the importance of reintegration efforts and letting rebel soldiers know they can safely return home.

“These kids, some of them are fighting not because they want to stay with the LRA, but because they feel like: 'Now that he has forcefully brought us here, the government will look at us as being rebels, and when I try to go back home, they will just kill me straightaway. So I'd rather fight for my dear life and die in the battle.'”

The African Union said last month it will deploy an additional 5,000 troops to search for Kony. U.S. President Barack Obama sent 100 military personnel to central Africa last year to help Ugandan forces track down the remaining bands of LRA fighters.

Members of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Africa expressed support for a proposed bill that would allow the State Department to pay rewards in exchange for information leading to the arrest of those accused of war crimes.

Senator John Kerry introduced the bill last week, saying the program would send a message to “brutal thugs like Kony” that they can only hide for so long.