Ms. FRANCINE ORR (LA Times Photographer): There's been a 19-year war taking place in northern Uganda.
ED GORDON, host:
Los Angeles Times photographer Francine Orr has covered Africa and other world hot spots for years. And she's seen the faces and heard the voices of child soldiers being preyed upon by groups like Uganda's so-called Lord's Resistance Army. This is Francine Orr in her own words.
Ms. ORR: There's a rebel group led by Joseph Koney. Some people think he's demon-possessed. No one really knows what his agenda is. The LRA kidnaps children. They use the boys as soldiers and the girls as sex slaves. Every night you sit and you wait for the rebels to come, and you listen to every sound, not knowing if they're going to come with their machetes, with their guns. And they abduct people, and they kill people, and they burn huts. And so you never know from night to night if you're going to survive. I've read 30,000 or 40,000 children have been abducted. I'm not sure if those figures are accurate because it happens in the dark of night. It happens in the bush. And it's happened over the last two decades.
I was interviewing a former child soldier, a little girl, and I was asking her questions about what she was forced to do. She was actually a mother. She had had a baby from a rebel and she was actually able to escape with her child. When I was finished with that interview, I asked her `Do you have any questions for me?' And she said, `Yeah, I have a question. What is the international community doing about this conflict?' And I just sat quietly. I didn't have an answer for her. It's an invisible war. There are not bombs falling from the sky. There are not tanks rolling down the street. The government says that it is for the people's protection that they make people live in internally displaced persons camps in northern Uganda. One point six million people live in these camps.
I was in an IDP camp in Pader district and the word went out, and so I started doing interview after interview, and I realized that each story was very similar to the next and to the next, of mutilations and of suffering. And I went outside and there were literally hundreds of people lined up, shoulder to shoulder, waiting to tell me their story. I heard that the cutting had begun again by the Lord's Resistance Army. That means that there was an order given that people should be cut--their lips, their nose, their ears, their fingers.
Came across two women in St. Joseph's Hospital in Kitgum. They told me a story about how they both lived in an IDP camp, and they were out of the camp, the LRA rebels came, about 50 people were abducted, and someone ran and, as an example, a young boy, about 11 years old, they said, cut their lips and their ears off. When I was photographing them, one of the women started to cry. And I asked her `Do you have hope for peace in the future?' And she said, `I don't know. I don't know if peace is possible. But what I do know is that when I'm finished here, when I'm healed, when I leave this place, I will go back to the IDP camp, care for my children, and live the rest of my life in poverty.'
GORDON: Once again, Francine Orr, a photographer for the Los Angeles Times, in her own words. To see her photograph of the young woman in St. Joseph's Hospital, visit our Web site at npr.org.