A former rebel who recently defected from the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebels Thursday recounted his ordeal in the jungle in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He also revealed how the rebel group is operating a vibrant recruitment cell in Kampala city and other part of the country.
Sadiq (not real name) the man who claims to have been unknowingly recruited into the ADF by a friend late last year from Kampala said he only managed to escape to freedom last week after completing a six months rigorous military training in a vast jungle "the size of Uganda."
Sadiq spoke to New Vision in an exclusive interview yesterday, but requested not to be identified fearing for his life.
Sadiq who was handed over to Uganda's Amnesty Commission (UAC) after being flown in from the Congolese town of Beni by the United Nations peace-keepers (MONUC) narrated of how he was unknowingly lured into rebels ranks, spoke of a robust clandestine rebel network operating in the country, the rigorous rebel training, and his face to face encounter with the elusive ADF leader Jamil Mukulu. He asserted that ADF remains a force to reckon with, quite organized and with a wide network of collaborators within Uganda.
He revealed that the families of some of the rebel recruits are relocated to Congo. This could explain recent reports of missing families.
Sadiq, a Muslim in his 30s, stated that ADF operate more than three camps in a huge forest near Beni, complete with both light and heavy weapons, receiving on a daily basis a number of new recruits from Uganda, Rwanda and Congo.
Sadiq explained that he managed to give the rebels a slip on Thursday night last week while on a mission to pick supplies. He trekked the whole night before turning himself in at the UN office in Beni, ending up in Kampala several days later.
How he was recruited:
"A friend of mine who had disappeared for two years returned about September last year and offered to take me to work with a plastic company in Congo, telling me of great opportunities there," Sadiq said at the Amnesty commission offices in Wandegeya.
Speaking in Luganda, Sadiq explained that he set off for Congo with his friend on September 26 aboard a bus, spending a night in Mbarara and proceeding the next day in a taxi to Kikolongo. They boarded a cab to Bwera border post, reaching in the morning, finding a boda boda cyclist waiting to for them.
"My friend constantly kept in touch with some people on phone, speaking in Kiswahili," he said.
After crossing to Congo, he said, they travelled on a boda boda for almost the whole day, reaching the fringes of the forest about 5:00pm.
"We were welcomed by about 10 armed men speaking in Luganda," he said adding that they then trekked till about 7:00pm before coming across a hut deep in the jungle where they spent the night after being fed on Yams.
"At this point they took away my mobile phone, money and my identity card. I got scared, realizing that I could be in an ADF camp. I contemplated escaping, but dropped the idea after they read to us the rules, specifying death as the penalty for anyone who attempts to escape. There was no sign of human habitation nearby, no roads or sign of any vehicle."
He said they were put under another group and they trekked for another two days before reaching one of the main ADF camps-CIBG.
"We were informed that we were in the ADF camp and there is no asking questions," he said.
He said they started military training which ended in March. "They have a lot of guns both small, and big. I was trained on how to use about nine different guns," Sadiq said adding that the rebels have all sorts of fire arms ranging from the AK 47 rifle to the 82mm mortar, hand grenades and land mines.
He said the camp was receiving between eight to 10 new recruits every day. "Their biggest and oldest camp MTM has more than 1000 fighters," he revealed.
The rebels mainly survive on yams which they have to trek long distances to find. Sadiq was among the 140 recruits who were passed out in March by ADF army commander only identified as Tiger.
After the training, Sadiq together with 24 others shifted to another camp. He said that one night he was sent in a team to collect some items. This is when he got opportunity to escape.
"When we reached where the items were, I heard sound of vehicles in a distance and guessed there could be a road nearby. I made up my mind and escaped," he said.
"I slipped and hid behind a banana plant and later begun walking in the opposite direction until I hit a tarmac road. I walked the whole night before reaching Beni at about 5:00am," Sadiq explained.
The MONUC gave him food and accommodation for some days before flying him to Entebbe yesterday.
Sadiq said, the rebel outfit has a sizeable number of fighters. "They have fighters and guns. They are also in an aggressive recruitment drive. They are even recruiting here in the city and other parts of the country," he said. He said he saw Jamil Mukulu in the jungle only three times when he spoke to them.
Moses Draku, the UAC spokesperson said they would help Sadiq resettle, adding that since 2000, a total of 2040 ADF rebels have defected and embraced amnesty.
Sadiq narrative confirms recent reports by the security agencies that ADF is operating recruitment cells in the country. In the past few weeks, security agencies have arrested people suspected to be recruiting for ADF.