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Kenya Captures Ugandan Rebel Priestess

December 31, 1987

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) _ The government said Wednesday it jailed a Ugandan voodoo priestess who smeared oil on her barechested rebel troops, armed them with sticks and stones and sent thousands into suicide battles.

The capture of Alice Lakwena on Saturday ended a yearlong campaign by the legendary 27-year-old leader of the Holy Spirit Movement, one of a half-dozen rebel groups fighting the Ugandan government.

Her rebels, armed with sticks and stones that Ms. Lakwena insisted would explode like grenades, were never a serious military threat.

But she became a major embarrassment to the Ugandan government because the foreign media had reported so extensively on her bizarre exploits.

She and seven followers were arrested Saturday when they crossed illegally into Kenya, said Justis ole Tipis, Kenya’s minister of state in charge of security.

″She was subsequently convicted and sentenced to four months imprisonment,″ Tipis said in a statement. ″She will be repatriated to Uganda at the expiry of her prison term.″

Ms. Lakwena, the daughter of a clergyman from the small Acholi tribe in northern Uganda, mesmerized her followers with claims that spirits spoke through her and ordered the attacks. One spirit reportedly was called ″Wrong Element.″

Known as Mama Alice to her troops, she inspired them to march into battle singing hymns and told them that the oil smeared on their chests would ward off bullets. She told them their sticks and stones had magical killing powers and that she could turn bees into bullets.

Her rebels fought the government of President Yoweri Museveni, who came to power Jan. 26, 1986, when his rebel National Resistance Army routed the army of a 6-month-old military government.

The defeated army fled north, where it regrouped and began an insurgency of its own. Ms. Lakwena started her movement with 4,000 warriors in the region last December.

In January, 3,000 of the rebels attacked government positions near Kilak Corner about 300 miles north of Kampala over two days, and 300 insurgents died, Museveni said at the time.

″They just came wildly singing and shouting, so our forces massacred them,″ he said.

Captured soldiers said Ms. Lakwena anointed their chests with animal blood, oils and herbs and told them the concoction would protect them.

In September, more than 500 Holy Spirit Movement rebels reportedly attacked an army base at Ngora about 200 miles north of Kampala and 185 were killed. Officers said the rebels were after cattle the army recovered from rustlers.

News reports said they were armed with guns and white stones, their bodies were smeared with oil, their ears were stuffed with cotton and they carried bags of drugs they believed would cure them if wounded.

In October, the government said it had killed 2,000 Holy Spirit Movement rebels since Aug. 1 and had begun a campaign to wipe out the movement and capture or kill its leader.

At that time, reports said the movement was gaining strength. Ms. Lakwena had moved her forces 400 miles from her northern Gulu district to the lush bush of the eastern region at the headwaters of the Nile.

Captured followers said she had recruited thousands more followers on the way, sometimes forcing young men to join her movement at gunpoint.

In November, Museveni’s government said about 8,500 Holy Spirit rebels had been killed since January, 1,490 of them between Oct. 4 and Oct. 29.

The major blow came on Nov. 5, when government soldiers attacked rebel positions and wounded Ms. Lakwena in the leg. She fled on a bicycle pushed by a few followers, the Ugandan government newspaper New Vision said.

The newspaper said Otim Oyo, her chief commander, and nearly all her followers were killed in the battle at Bukhadhe-Ndhoya, about 80 miles east of Kampala, but it did not give figures.

It quoted government army commander Shef Ali as saying only about seven of the 40 survivors stayed with her when she went into hiding afterwards.

Michael Mafabi said in an interview with The Associated Press after he surrendered that Ms. Lakwena was ″disgraced because she lost the war.″

″They (her followers) insisted that the war must be continued as decreed by the chairman, the holy spirit who commands through Alice Lakwena,″ he said.

She reportedly put out feelers to the government offering to surrender but said she was afraid she would be killed.

On Nov. 13, newspapers reported the government killed 100 remaining followers. She was not heard from again until the announcement from Kenya.

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