Fighters from the Lord’s Resistance Army swarmed onto the streets of Soroti on Monday, where the Houiellebecq family had worked for over 19 years, and killed several innocent civilians.Nearby, they attacked a school and kidnapped dozens of young girls, cutting off the fingers and toes of some who tried to escape.Anthony Houiellebecq, his wife Elizabeth and their three children Daniel (11), Sam (9) and Anna (3) returned to Jersey just last week after deciding to leave the now war-torn area of north-eastern Uganda.They packed up because one of the children became ill and is now undergoing tests at Great Ormond Street hospital.The attacks on Soroti began on Monday evening when heavily armed rebels abducted up to 100 schoolgirls from Rwara Girls secondary school, 50 km from Soroti town.
At the same time heavy gunfire was reported in Soroti centre and a bus ambushed on the outskirts with several civilians killed.A BBC reporter, talking to a girl who witnessed the abductions but managed to flee, described how the rebels rounded up dozens of students and tied them together.
One of the students who was struggling to escape had her fingers and toes cut off.Such brutality is not uncommon.
During this 17-year long conflict over 14,000 children have been abducted – 5,000 in the last year alone.
An unknown number have been killed.
Children as young as eight years old are captured and forced to fight, raid villages, carry looted goods and carry out acts of extreme violence for fear of being killed themselves.Responsible for this mayhem is self-styled prophet, and former alter boy, Joseph Kony.
The aim of this Christian fundamentalist group is to rule Uganda based on the Biblical Ten Commandments.
In reality, his group of roaming bandits have lost any political agenda and have descended into a bizarre rule of extreme Christianity and spiritualism.
Mr Houiellebecq, who was working as a technical and mission development adviser to the Church of Uganda, said news of the rebel attack took the family by surprise.’It was a total shock for us to hear of the attack,’ he recalled.
‘Soroti has always been a peaceful town with very little trouble but it has been something the locals have always dreaded.
One of our committee members was killed in one of the numerous ambushes on the roads heading north but we never thought trouble would reach Soroti town.
The rebels have never been that close before.’Soroti is well known by many Islanders who have visited the region on numerous Overseas Aid projects over the years.One group has recently returned from a project in a nearby district and were visited by the Houiellebecq family.
Deputy team leader Mike Hayden said: ‘ We had no trouble and there was no risk from the LRA but security was high anyway due to the general terrorist threat covering East Africa.’Mr Houiellebecq, who advises Overseas Aid teams about security issues, said that if the LRA attacks had happened while the team was in the country, they would have consulted the authorities and acted accordingly.’The fate of the abducted schoolgirls is not yet known.
The army is searching for them but the outlook is not reported to be good.
In similar cases, they have been killed or have disappeared for years.Jennifer Ajok was 14 when she was abducted.
The night she was taken she was forced to kill another girl, who tried to escape, by stamping on her head.
She was then forced to fight in Uganda and Sudan before being ‘given as a wife’ to two LRA commanders later having a child by each.She managed to escape after five years captivity but little awaits her at home.
The already traumatised community find it difficult to come to terms with the ordeal of the abducted children, often leaving them stigmatised and unwanted.Mr Houiellebecq today spoke to his colleague the Right Reverend Charles Obaikol in Soroti.He said: ‘The Bishop told me the army had moved in and last night there was no more gun fire but many people have fled and villagers are flooding into the centre for safety.
It still remains very tense.’The Houiellebecqs consider it fateful intervention they decided to leave Uganda just before all the trouble started.
Mr Houiellebecq said: ‘For the safety of my family I am glad we are not there at the moment, but we are extremely concerned about the well-being of our friends and the people of Soroti.
Our thoughts and wishes are with them.’