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Former Rebels Return Home Under Ugandan Amnesty Act - 2003-02-01

The International Organization for Migration, IOM, says hundreds of former rebels of the Lord's Resistance Army, or LRA, have registered to return to Uganda from Kenya under a Ugandan Amnesty Act.

The International Organization for Migration says nearly 400 former combatants of the Lord's Resistance Army, and their dependents, including abducted women and children, have registered to return home. It says it hopes the rest of the 1,000 former rebels in Kenya will apply for amnesty before the screening and registration process ends on February 7. IOM spokesman Jean-Philippe Chauzy says all these people have harrowing stories to tell.

"We have got, for instance, an 18-year-old boy who was abducted - he says he was abducted at the age of five. He was basically used to carry stuff for the Lord's Resistance Army, and then he was basically taught to kill, and he fought in the ranks of the LRA against his will until 1999, until he fled to neighboring Kenya," he said.

The LRA has waged a guerrilla war in northern Uganda for the past 10 years. It has abducted nearly 10,000 children who have been used as soldiers, porters and sex slaves. Many thousands are believed to have died while in captivity. The U.N. Children's Fund, UNICEF, says more than 5,000 abducted children are still missing. The Ugandan Amnesty Act, which was signed in January 2000, allows former LRA fighters to return home in safety. However, Mr. Chauzy says many of the former rebels are apprehensive about going back to Uganda.

"There are lots of rumors spreading around," he said. "They are not entirely sure about their security upon arrival. But, that being said, once these people return, they will be covered by the Amnesty Commission, and they will be taken care of by various international organizations, including UNICEF, IOM and big NGOs [non-governmental organizations] such as World Vision. So their security and their re-integration will go ahead as planned."

Mr. Chauzy says there is a lot of good will to make sure the former rebels can re-integrate into civilian life. He says, upon their return, these people will be given psychological counseling, job training and, in some cases, microcredits to help them become economically independent.