When Florence Ayot escaped from the rebel Lord's Resistance Army in 2005 after over 15 years in captivity, she was overjoyed to be free, but the seven years she has been back have been more than difficult - most of her family is dead and the local community has been hostile to her and her children.
While in the bush, Ayot was forced to become the wife of Dominic Ongwen, an LRA commander who (together with rebel leader Joseph Kony and three others) is wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. She told IRIN about her time in the bush and her struggles since returning.
"I was abducted in 1989 when I was just nine years old. I was moving with my uncle when the rebels captured us. They killed my uncle. I was beaten and forced to walk for long distances to different areas in the bush. While in the bush, there was brainwashing and ritual killings every time new people were abducted to join the rebel group. This was aimed at initiating and scaring us from escaping. There were threats of death all the time.
"After trekking hundreds of kilometres while in captivity, I was one day handed to Obwong Kijura [an LRA top commander] as his wife. He abused and used me as a sex slave for all the four to five years I was with him. He impregnated me. Unfortunately my child died after I gave birth. After Kijura was killed in a fierce battle with Ugandan soldiers in 1993, I was transferred to Dominic [Ongwen] as his second wife. The suffering continued. A year later, I gave birth to his son, whom he named Lagony, meaning 'back to God'. I produced another three children with him while still in the bush, two girls and one boy.
"The life in the bush was easy since I was a wife of a top commander. I had enough food and everything I needed; the lower rebels would get food for their commanders. However, we lived like wild animals. We were always on the move. We were running up and down every time to avoid attacks from government forces. I feared for my life. I knew I would be killed one day as the battles continued. But as a commander's wife, I was heavily guarded and had no chance to escape.
"As the battles raged, life became difficult. I survived under God's mercy. I was shot four times at different locations in Gulu, Kitgum and South Sudan. I was shot on my right thigh, one near the buttocks, my hand and head. I suffered as there was no proper treatment in the bush. I had to struggle as we were moving day and night. This was the daily business.
"When my son Lagony was killed in an army attack at our base in Layo Ajon, Lalogi, Gulu District, in early March 2005, I knew I would be the next culprit to follow. I started to hatch a plan to escape.
"My chance to escape just came three weeks after the killing of my son. On 28 March our convoy bumped into Ugandan soldiers at Rack-koko in Pader District and a fierce battle ensued. We scattered in different directions. As I was running with my two bodyguards and children, we found one woman who was in her garden. We told her that we wanted to surrender. She took us to an army detachment.
"When the soldiers realized that I was a wife of a top LRA commander, they immediately took me to Rachael Rehabilitation Centre in Lira District. I stayed there for one week before I was transferred to World Vision Rehabilitation Centre in Gulu, where I lived for seven months undergoing rehabilitation and counselling.
"I was only visited by Dominic's relatives - in 2005 when I had just been brought to World Vision rehabilitation centre. None of my relatives visited me - I realized later that all my parents were killed during the insurgency.
"The relatives of my parents don't want my children. They say the children are of a top LRA commander who killed their people. The relatives of my husband have also abandoned me. They don't give me any assistance yet they know that I am stranded with the children. We are always stigmatized by the community. My children are always reminded that their father is a notorious rebel commander who killed people and that they were born in captivity.
"I can't go to my husband's home, which I even don't know. I hear it's in Alero and others tell me it's in Awere [both in Gulu]. I feel so insecure. I fear I will be lynched since I was a wife of an LRA commander who committed several atrocities and crimes in northern Uganda.
"Since I am illiterate, I can't do any office work. I am struggling daily doing petty jobs like fetching water for people, washing clothes and digging in gardens in order to get some money. The little I get, I use for buying greens, charcoal and cassava. I can't afford to cook beans and posho [maize meal], which consume a lot of charcoal. We don't take tea as I can't afford to buy sugar. For change of diet, children taste meat only once a month.
"If I had the freedom to dig, I would have a comfortable life in the village. But I don't have land. I wish I would be given some small capital. I would start up some small business… I appeal to the Ugandan government to buy for me a piece of land and build a house before I die. I am so sickly and weak due to the gun-shots. I am only surviving on God's mercy.
"I almost committed suicide last month. I bought drugs that I wanted to swallow for failing to provide for children. However, one woman persuaded me to abandon the move.
"If there was a means government could link me to speak with Dominic, I would request him to abandon, renounce rebellion and apply for amnesty in order for him to come back home to reconcile with the community he wronged. He should come out of the bush. Let the International Criminal Court spare Dominic and forgive him for his crimes so that he can come home and take care of his children.
"I know he committed very serious and terrible atrocities. People were killed, maimed, abducted and raped by the rebels. I fear people will revenge on me and my children. I am leaving everything to God."
Help make quality journalism about crises possible
The New Humanitarian is an independent, non-profit newsroom founded in 1995. We deliver quality, reliable journalism about crises and big issues impacting the world today. Our reporting on humanitarian aid has uncovered sex scandals, scams, data breaches, corruption, and much more.
Our readers trust us to hold power in the multi-billion-dollar aid sector accountable and to amplify the voices of those impacted by crises. We’re on the ground, reporting from the front lines, to bring you the inside story.
We keep our journalism free – no paywalls – thanks to the support of donors and readers like you who believe we need more independent journalism in the world. Your contribution means we can continue delivering award-winning journalism about crises. Become a member of The New Humanitarian today.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions