Thursday, 17 December 2015

'I fell in Love With the Man Who Raped Me': Woman's Extraordinary Relationship with the Congolese Warlord

A young mother-of-two made to flee her home in Uganda and live with a warlord in the Congolese bush at the age of just ten has spoken out about her ordeal...and her sympathy towards the man she was forced to marry.

Prisca Lanyero, 22, who lives in a mud and straw hut with her children, aged eight and five, was forced to marry Ugandan rebel leader Dominic Ongwen at just 12-years-old after being abducted from her home as a child. 

Sleeping in her mud hut home with her mother, she was woken and dragged away by vicious thugs from the Lord's Resistance Army.

Her father, a soldier in the Ugandan Army, was away fighting this feared militia, who had been terrorising the north of the country since 1986.

By this time, in 2002, they had kidnapped thousands of children and young adults - the boys to train as child soldiers and the girls to become 'forced wives' to the commanders.

They were known for slashing the lips and ears of those who dared speak back to them, and to kill those who attempted to escape.

Prisca was forced to carry a load and join other young abductees roped together to walk barefoot miles through the dense bush to South Sudan.

As she did so, she caught the attention of a young commander called Dominic Ongwen. He was so concerned at her fatigue that he took her to the sick bay.

It was the start of a long relationship which began against her will but which eventually turned to some kind of love.

Her husband is now facing the International Criminal Court at the Hague next month charged with crimes against humanity that include murder, torture and rape. If convicted he faces years in jail.

But Prisca, now 22, and living with Dominic's two children in a straw-roofed mud hut in Gulu district of Uganda, believes he is just as much a victim as herself, abducted as a school boy himself and finding himself rising through the ranks, forced to do terrible acts.

Speaking through a translator, the softly spoken woman says: She said: 'All the atrocities may be he has done, it was not his will. They gave him the order to do it but if you don't do it you were going to be killed and punished.'

She added that she wants Dominic back, and that should be allowed to return to his family in Uganda and be a proper, supportive father. 

She said: 'He should come back to his family and in case he is interested in me, I will come to him and keep our children together.'

Prisca appears to be showing evidence of Stockholm syndrome, a psychological response in which kidnap victims begin to show sympathy for their abductors. It was named after a robbery in Sweden in which hostages became emotionally attached to their captors.

But listening to her story unfold, it is not surprising that in such a brutal environment, the young Prisca clutched on to any tenderness that she was shown her.

Life in the LRA was one of constant movement, from place to place, finding food and other supplies, and living in the open air. 

Pregnant women gave birth to children as their convoy walked on – the cord was cut and they were expected to continue marching with the newborns on their back.

When Prisca was fit to be released from the sickbay after her capture, Ongwen called for her to come and stay in his 'household' with his other wives. This is when she first saw his brutality.
She says: 'When one of the wives once someone did something wrong he would normally punish all of them with the cane.' Her solace was the other wives, who all 'loved each other.'
At 12, he ordered her to become a wife herself. She was appalled. She says she did not want to be his wife either because 'I had no voice. I was too young.'
But over time their relationship changed. Generally Dominic was 'friendly to everyone, happy' who 'could be kind sometimes.'

It was after an ambush by Ugandan Government forces that the relationship developed significantly, when he picked up the injured girl shot in the thigh and the arm and rescued her.
She remembers: 'I would have been killed without him: I was shot almost to death, he was the one who carried me and nursed me until I recovered. That's why I cannot forget about him. After seeing all the help he has shown me, I even started loving him. He used to love me but still, I don't know.'
She was released in 2011 by another commander when Ongwen was on a mission and now lives in a rented mud and straw hut in the Gulu district 400 km from the capital Kampala, with their children, now 8 and 5.
At first she was scare to leave the captivity that had been her only home for nine years. 'I was upset because I didn't know I would be safe. Then I made my mind up - just go, even if I don't get to my people, there will be someone to care for me at home. Let me just go and see what will happen.
Her life is hard and she has experienced discrimination from the other villagers making nasty remarks but this stopped after the appealed to a local community leader.
She makes a living by selling charcoal, washing clothes and huts, but still can only afford to put one child through the cheapest school, which costs Ush 200,000 a term - around £38 UK pounds.
She has no family support as her mother died earlier this year and her father died fighting the month she was released.
It is this lack of family support that makes rehabilitation back into the community particularly difficult.
Janet Arach, who helps run charity Watye Ki Gen, works directly with many LRA survivors and forced wives, to help them integrate and provide livelihoods. Prisca is being helped by them, and is also getting medical treatment paid for by World Vision.
She admits life is easier now than in captivity. But ultimately, what she wants is the return of her 'husband' and father to her two children aged 13 and 9. 'I miss him,' she says. And at this, she breaks down.

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