UGANDA: Rebels "ready to make peace" but want ICC charges dropped

Sunday, November 4, 2007

For the first time since taking up arms almost 20 years ago, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has sent a peace delegation to Kampala. But the rebels and Ugandan government remain poles apart on the key issue of International Criminal Court (ICC) indictments against top LRA leaders.

During a joint press conference held with government officials shortly after the LRA delegates arrived in the Ugandan capital on 1 November, chief rebel negotiator Martin Ojul and legal advisor Ayena Odongo called on the UN Security Council to issue a 12-month renewable suspension of the indictments, which target LRA leader Joseph Kony, among others.

"We don't fear the ICC. The ICC is an encumbrance to the peace process. We hope the ICC and its prosecutor will restrain themselves to allow us to develop alternative justice mechanisms. The ICC will die a natural death. The government that made the referral can ask for a review and it can be done," Odongo said. "We hope that the ICC prosecutor will restrain himself from doing things that will be viewed as political."

Ruhakana Rugunda, the government’s lead negotiator in peace talks, which have been held in the Southern Sudanese capital Juba, insisted: "Uganda supports the ICC arrest warrants. The indictments stand. Impunity must be addressed."

He added that Kampala would only seek a review of the indictments if it signed a final agreement on accountability that would be acceptable to victims of the conflict, the entire country and the international community.

Analysts say that a successful resolution of the conflict in northern Uganda depends on how Kony is dealt with.

"The fate of a war that displaced nearly two million people and created the highest child abduction rate in the world hinges on the fate of one man: Joseph Kony," the Enough Project to Abolish Genocide and Mass Atrocities said in a report issued late in October.

"Negotiations ongoing in Juba are addressing a wide array of issues, but until there is agreement about how to deal with Kony and his top deputies there will be no peace deal," the report added.

As a symbol of peace, Ojul released a dove into the air during the press conference and said: "I did not come here for any intention other than peace. It has taken 20 years to be here and it is humbling that we are speaking with the government delegation. This shows our commitment to the peace process. We hope that it will not be a long time before we get a final agreement."

Rugunda agreed that the occasion was propitious. "This is an important moment because the LRA has come home. We have been waiting for them for some time... This shows the progress so far made at the peace talks. With this, the people in northern Uganda will be able to go home and lead a normal life again," he told reporters.

The rebel delegation, accompanied by mediators and African Union officials, was due to travel to northern Uganda to start public consultations lasting 26 days. They would first hold talks with President Yoweri Museveni.

The views gathered were expected to be aired at an LRA convention in Southern Sudan, the first-ever such gathering in the history of the rebellion. The consultations would focus on comprehensive solutions to the conflict and matters of accountability and reconciliation.

Source: IRIN