Sunday, March 15, 2009

Uganda: 60 human skeletons scheduled to be buried and 48 villages cleansed as displaced return home

Human skeletons are being buried and villages cleansed in northern Uganda's Acholi sub-region to ease the resettlement of returnees previously displaced by fighting between the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) and government forces.

"Reburial and cleansing of villages is one of the activities being undertaken to ensure a smooth resettlement of IDPs [internally displaced persons]," said Sophie Agwoko, programme officer for Ker Kwaro Acholi, the cultural institution in charge.

Thirteen skeletons have been buried over the past three months and cleansing ceremonies performed in 17 villages in Gulu and Amuru districts, where several people were killed by either the LRA or the Ugandan army during the war.

Acholi was the epicentre of the LRA conflict that left thousands of civilians dead and displaced about 1.5 million.

Another 60 human skeletons are scheduled to be buried and 48 villages cleansed in 12 sub-counties.

Burying skeletons involves slaughtering a goat or chicken near the grave while cleansing villages requires slaughtering a sheep and traditional dances for the dead.

Agwoko said a sheep was slaughtered in Lukutu village in Koch Goma, where 12 civilians were burnt in a hut in 1987, and another in Kalang, where 10 civilians were shot dead during a funeral in 1990.

"Civilians were massacred in villages across the region; people fear resettling in their villages in such areas saying they are being attacked by ghosts and evil spirits," she told IRIN on 10 March.

Whenever they came across human skeletons in their villages, returnees in some sub-counties of Gulu and Amuru were reluctant to resettle. Some shunned areas where they believed massacres had occurred.

In Oroko village, 30km south of Gulu town - where rebels killed several civilians and herded others into huts before burning them - returnee families told IRIN that unburied skeletons made it hard for them to go home.

Nesarino Obol, a returnee, said he found two human skeletons in his compound. "I froze when I came across the skeletons; I will only go back when they are buried," he said.

Another returnee, Marino Ojok, said he would only go home if the village was cleansed and the skeletons buried.

"To the community, it is an indication that the war is coming to an end, it builds hope and confidence for people returning to their villages," Agwoko said. "It reduces fear and helps in the management of mental illness and psychological trauma."

Rwot Othinga Atuka Othoyai, a cultural chief, told IRIN at the Acholi paramount chief’s palace in Gulu that cleansing the villages under Acholi cultural auspices was important to protect people from bad omens.

"Locals trying to go back home still live in fear," Othinga said. "The programme helps restore confidence and a sustainable return of IDPs."

Disclaimer:This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
Photo: Copyright IRIN
Published by Mike Hitchen, Mike Hitchen Consulting
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