'Kony Now a Muslim'

Rebel leader Joseph Kony who started out as a Christian fundamentalist has since become a Muslim, former abductees have said.

Children formerly abducted by the rebel Lord's Resistance Army say that Kony insists on Islamic conduct in the southern Sudanese camps.

"The prayers are in Islamic because Kony had also become a Muslim. He had been given the name Mohammad," said Denis Ochola, 17, who escaped from rebel captivity last year.

"During prayers we kneel down like Muslims," Ochola said in an interview held last year in Gulu.

However, Ochola who hails from Amida sub county in Kitgum says there are "some incidents where Kony believes that there is Jesus, the son of God and he talks directly to God."

Ochola says that most of the commanders don't like praying in Islam and that it appears "like Kony is forcing them to become Muslims."

Another boy, Sunday, who spent a year in LRA captivity in Gulu and Kitgum said that prayers inside Uganda were held in both Islam and Christianity.

The children say that senior commanders like Vincent Otti communicate in Arabic, Luo and sometimes broken English.

Kony, son to a Catholic catechist, started out 17 years ago with an intention of establishing national rule based on the Ten Commandments.

In the mid 1990s, the former speaker of the Sudanese Parliament Hassan Turabi was regarded as an Islamic expansionist eager to Islamise the LRA.

According to Mr George Omona, Country Director of Acord, religious fanaticism fuels the northern insurgency:

"One problem is the spiritual element of the conflict - a mixture of traditional religion, Islam and Christianity, which has given the rebel leader a multiple personality," Omona said. "It becomes difficult to deal with Kony - that kind of rebel leader who is the centre of everything."