Wednesday, April 26, 2006

A former child soldier and sex slave for a Ugandan terrorist group was lauded by members of Congress yesterday for surviving her ordeal to tell her story 10 years later before a House subcommittee.

“It is truly a testament to you that you are so remarkably poised and strong,” Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican, told Grace Akallo, 26, during a hearing of the House International Relations human rights subcommittee.

“You are a miracle,” said Rep. Diane Watson, California Democrat.

More than 80 people crammed into a House hearing room to hear Miss Akallo tell how she survived seven months with Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a group that claims to follow the laws of the Old Testament as it has abducted and tortured 30,000 children in the past 20 years.

“I was one of those children,” Miss Akallo said, “but by God’s grace, I am with you today.”

She asked the United States to pressure Uganda to do more to end a civil war that has engulfed northern Uganda, southern Sudan and the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and to mobilize the international community. The United States is the world’s largest donor to relief efforts in Uganda’s network of 200 refugee camps, which house 1.5 million people.

“We also need support for more psychosocial programs that help all children living in northern Uganda, because all children have been traumatized by this war,” she said, “whether they have been abducted, or watched their brother, sister or classmate being abducted, or if they are a ‘night commuter’ and live in fear of abduction.”

She was referring to the thousands of children in northern Uganda who migrate several miles from their rural homes every afternoon to spend their nights in camps or in larger cities to escape the LRA. Children who are captured are forced either to kill their friends or be killed.

One 11-year-old was forced to bite to death another child who had tried to escape from the LRA, said Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Krilla, who also testified yesterday.

“This is a deeply disturbing story,” he said.

Protection by the Ugandan government militias is “inadequate” at best, he said, and, in some cases, these militias have committed mass rapes of women and girls instead of protecting them. The Ugandan government, meanwhile, has sought to limit the influence of several dozen church groups and nongovernmental organizations active in the country by making them renew their registration permits annually and forcing them to allow members of these militias to serve on their boards.

Still, he added, word of the children who have been abducted has spread worldwide, and “Global Night Commutes” are being planned in 130 cities on Saturday to show solidarity with Ugandan children. They will involve young people who will walk up to 12 miles into their cities in the same way Ugandan children commute to nearby towns.

“The whole world condemns this, yet we’ve allowed this to go on,” said Rep. John Boozman, Arkansas Republican.

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