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Residents Recall Corner Kilak Battle 33 Years Later

At Corner Kilak, 33 years ago on January 18th 1987, government forces, the then National Resistance Army soldiers [NRA] launched a retaliatory attack against fighters of Alice Auma Lakwena, the former leader of the Holy Spirit Movement.
Penderiko Ongwech 63, one of the Holy Spirit Movement [HSM] abductee at his home in pader district.

Audio 6

Corner Kilak trading centre in Pader Sub County, Pader District is fast picking up in terms of development, with visibly promising business cropping up.

Here, 33 years ago on January 18th 1987, government forces, the then National Resistance Army soldiers [NRA] launched a retaliatory attack against fighters of Alice Auma Lakwena, the former leader of the Holy Spirit Movement.

The fight termed as one of the fiercest and bloodiest battle in northern Uganda lasted for several hours, resulting into great fatalities between government, Lakwena’s fighters and civilians.

Penderiko Ongwech 63, one of the Holy Spirit Movement [HSM] abductee recounted this infamous battle to URN in an interview.

Ongwech who now resides at his ancestral home in Kalangure North village in Ongany Parish, Pader Sub County says initially Corner Kilak area was controlled by fighters of the Uganda People's Democratic Army (UPDA) in 1986.

The fighters were mostly members of Former Uganda National Liberation Army [UNLA] soldiers’ commanded by former president Gen Tito Okello Lutwa who was overthrown by president Museveni in 1986.

He says in May 1986, UPDA fighters begun their plans to spy Corner Kilak which was then in the hands of NRA soldiers.  He says by June; the fighters had made up their final plans to start attacking the government forces whom they accused of innocently killing locals opposed to them.

He notes that they formed a battalion, with its headquarters in Lakoga in puranga Sub County.   

According to Ongwech, Alice Lakwena who was operating in Gulu district with no military skills joined the red battalion of the UPDA fighters then commanded by Capt Ojuku in October 1986 and managed to convince them to back her quest to fight government.

The first fights for corner Kilak started on November 12th 1986, were Lakwena’s fighters attacked NRA base and captured two government soldiers alive and went with them to Lagile primary school.

On November 25, the rebels regrouped and commanded all its fighters to smear Shea butter oil, believed to protect them from bullet penetration. 

Ongwech says On November 26th, they went back and surrounded the army barracks in corner Kilak but they were defeated adding that during the battle, he got shot in the left finger before his team retreated to Lagile. 

Despite the defeat, Lakwena was very determined to take over corner Kilak trading centre from government in a show-off to win the hearts of her new converts and locals against President Museveni regime according to Ongwech.

And by January 14th 1987, after regrouping from their hideouts, Lakwena again led her fighters who were only armed with stones to take over Kilak early in the morning but the government soldiers chased them away.

He says by afternoon, Lakwena’s fighters launched a surprise attack and after hours of heavy gunfire exchanges, they took over the area from government forces.

For three days, Corner Kilak, a major supply route to East Acholi through Lango region was in the hands of Lakwena’s rebels.

Luo

//cue in: “lweny ma dong…

Cue out:… tiye apawiye aboro”.//

But on Sunday, January 18th, at about 6 am, Ongwech says government forces who had closed in on the trading centre led by the late Maj Gen Julius Oketta attacked the rebels, whose fighters mainly had stones and wore no shirts.

He says the fight, one of the bloodiest in the region, raged on from 6 am till about 4 pm when government forces regained control of the trading centre but with no easy feat leaving dead bodies of government troops, Lakwena’s fighters and civilian abductees littering the area.

Luo

//cue in: “I ceng cabit…

Cue out:…lweny pa lawkena”.//

Although Ongwech says he can’t estimate the numbers of people who died from both the government and Lakwena’s fighters, several published reports say some 1,600 Lakwena’s fighters and 200 NRA soldiers were killed in the fight. URN couldn’t independently verify these figures.

Raymond Jeremiah Otim 81, a resident of Ongany Parish in Pader Sub County who was then a production mobilizer says that insecurity in corner Kilak ensued sometimes after the January overthrow of Gen Tito Okello Lutwa’s government.

He says NRA soldiers who were following up remnants of the UNLA fighters hiding out in the region decided to create a base in corner Kilak for their operation and winning over the locals’ trust.  

According to Otim, the soldiers were friendly with the locals but towards May 1986, they turned against the locals whom they accused of collaborating with reels citing that about 85 people were rounded up and killed.

Luo

//cue in: “joni kong gubedo…

 Cue out:… apawiye abic keken”.//

Otim says the aftermath of the January 18th battle left the trading centre inhabitable for close to a month due to stench from rotting human bodies.

He says the dead bodies comprising of government soldiers, civilians and Lakwena’s fighters were all ferried and dumped about one kilometre away from the centre and left to rot without their relatives reclaiming them.

   // cue in: “inge lweny ni…  

Cue out:…dyang pa dano”.//

Dorotia Atim, a resident of Kilak central b ward, who lost her husband and a brother in the battle says there are growing cases of mental illnesses and trauma among some of the residents where the fighting took place. 

She believes that spirits of those who were killed and never decently buried are causing such problems and called for government and the cultural institution intervention for psycho-social support and cleansing. 

// cue in: “naka kombedi kom…

Cue out:…mabene otto kany”.//

  Although the Acholi cultural institution, through involvement of traditional chiefs with funding from Northern Uganda Transition Initiative (NUTI] carried out cleansing to rid the area of spirits, locals say nothing much has changed.

Alex Oyet, the Coordinator Acholi Cultural Institution in- charge of East Acholi says remains of human beings left in the open within the society is a cultural taboo in the Acholi culture which can affect the generation.

He says they will liaise with the cultural leaders in Puranga chiefdom to ensure that proper reburials are given to the dead to appease their spirits.

  //Cue in: “it has been…

Cue out:…also decently buried”.//

 After the suffering defeat at Corner Kilak, Lakwena’s HSM forces fled to Patongo and then to Pajule, Puranga and later moved back to Opit in Gulu district where she suffered another defeat.

She reportedly later fled with some of her fighters through lira to the east to capture Kampala but in November while in Jinja about 80kms east of Kampala, government forces defeated her with heavy artillery. Lakwena fled to Kenya where she lived as a refugee until her death in 2007.

Some of her fighters were reported to have later joined the Lord’s Resistance Army led by Joseph Kony.