Uganda's rebels on 'forgiveness' tour
A delegation of the brutal Lord's Resistance Army is traveling the country this week in a peace bid.
As a parade of representatives of Uganda's notorious Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebel group swept into the refugee camp, Thomas Oling confessed that he had never experienced such excitement.
Mr. Oling has spent most of his young adulthood at this camp for displaced people on the outskirts of Gulu, a town that was once at the epicenter of the rebels' horrific 20-year civil war. Their army killed thousands of people, displaced nearly 2 million, and became known for such brutal tactics, as disfiguring civilians and forcing children to be soldiers and sex slaves.
On Wednesday, the LRA delegation toured the dusty maze of huts as part of a historic "forgiveness" tour of the country aimed at reviving peace talks between the rebels and Uganda's government.
The homecoming of sorts turned into a feverish rally with loudly beating drums, dancing, and singing. And when delegation leader Martin Ojul called out to assembled camp residents to forgive the LRA, Oling replied: "They are our people. We have to welcome them back."
Despite being victims of the LRA's brutal tactics over the years, many here share Oling's conciliatory mood.
"There's going to be peace; people are really tired and willing to forgive," says Stella Hida, a shop owner.
The LRA delegation kicked off the tour this past weekend with a visit to the Ugandan capital, Kampala, and has since moved north to hold town-hall meetings and visit camps for displaced people in places like Gulu.
The group is led by Mr. Ojul, an LRA sympathizer who was exiled in Kenya, and consists of other rebel allies and former fighters.
The LRA's top leaders, including their infamous chief, Joseph Kony, are still in hiding in the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo, while other rebels are scattered throughout the bush in Congo and southern Sudan.