AUGUST 28, 2009: Spirits Of The Unburied Haunt Northern Uganda

Spirits Of The Unburied Haunt Northern Uganda


by Ben Simon

GULU, Uganda, Aug 28, 2009 (AFP) - No-one knew who she was, or how long the murdered woman -- by now just a patterned dress and a pile of bones -- had lain at the end of a narrow dirt footpath in a northern Ugandan village.

But three years after the massacres and midnight abductions stopped, her unburied remains became a symbol of how the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) continued to torment the Acholi people.

Many of Amoyo Koma's villagers fled in the nearly two decades during which the LRA terrorised the Acholi, the region's dominant tribe, killing thousands and forcing more than one million into protected camps.

The rebel group eventually took flight although it continues to plague jungle areas straddling Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and the Central African Republic where it has sown chaos, robbing and raping villagers.

But in northern Uganda more than half of the country's displaced have now returned home and the Ugandan government in February 2008 signed a permanent ceasefire accord with the rebel group in efforts to end the civil war.

Local leaders across northern Uganda, however, say the returnees feel haunted by the ghosts of the LRA's unburied victims.

"One of the factors affecting their return was the human remains," said Sophie Agwoko, of the Acholi Cultural Institute.

People, she said, felt that "evil spirits" were attacking them as they returned home.

They believed the spirits would only leave them in peace if they were given a decent burial.

"People were complaining to the chiefs about the problem and the solution grew from there," she added.

Agwoko has organised more than 70 burial ceremonies in the last 18 months, including one for the unidentified woman in the patterned dress at Amoyo Koma.

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