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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
02 June 2006

UGANDA: Give peace a chance, northern leaders tell ICC

KAMPALA, 2 Jun 2006 (IRIN) - The decision by Interpol to issue wanted person's notices against several Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) leaders will scuttle ongoing efforts to peacefully end the war in northern Uganda and may escalate the violence there, religious leaders in the war-affected region said on Friday.

Interpol issued its first warrants on behalf of the International Criminal Court (ICC) for five LRA commanders on Thursday. The ICC had earlier issued its own arrest warrants for the five rebels on charges including murder, rape and the forced enlisting of children.

The five include LRA leader Joseph Kony, who is indicted on 12 counts of crimes against humanity and 21 counts of war crimes. The others are Kony's deputy, Vincent Otti, and commanders Raska Lukwiya, Okot Odhiambo and the late Dominic Ongwen, who are also accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including intentionally directing an attack against a civilian population.

"As religious leaders, we are concerned about the announcement by Interpol. The ICC and Interpol should hold on and give room to negotiations and see how far this dialogue can go," said Monsignor Matthew Odongo, the vicar-general of the Roman Catholic diocese of the northern district of Gulu.

"This is like throwing a stone in water that had settled," Odongo added. "Any move that adds to the suffering of the people will not be good. We think that there is no contingency plan for the ICC or Interpol to arrest Kony and his commanders when government, with an army, has failed for the past 20 years."

Interpol warrants, or Red Notices, are non-binding orders distributed to the police forces of the organisation's 184 member states to help them carry out a provisional arrest with a view to a suspect's extradition.

Odongo, speaking on behalf of the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative, an inter-faith lobby group that advocates a peaceful end to the 20-year war, said he was also concerned about the timing of the Interpol announcement.

Kony recently led an LRA delegation to meet Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) officials headed by south Sudan's vice president, Riek Machar. "The LRA is ready to talk peace and end the war in a good way, not by force. We are fighting for peace and I am not a terrorist," Kony said in a video recording of the 2 May meeting.

Saying he was ready to talk peace with the Ugandan government and had "no problem" with President Yoweri Museveni, Kony told the meeting he had accepted an offer of mediation extended by Machar. South Sudan - where the LRA operates from - is now run by the SPLM/A, which signed a peace deal with the Khartoum-based Sudanese government in January 2005.

At the end of the meeting, Machar handed over food aid and what he said was US $20,000 in cash to Kony as part of an agreement for the rebels to halt attacks in southern Sudan, but warned him not to spend it on arms.

Sources said a follow-up meeting was due to be held between the two sides in the southern Sudanese town of Juba next week to discuss how to end the war, which has killed thousands and displaced almost two million people in northern Uganda and southern Sudan.

Odongo urged the international community to seize the opportunity presented by the upcoming meeting in Juba. "The concern of the international community should be the immediate end of conflict, not to escalate it and continue destroying more innocent lives in northern Uganda. Can't the ICC wait and take the opportunity offered by this meeting?" he said.

Jackson Otto, a human rights activist in the region said: "Why should they time this announcement ahead of the meeting in Juba? Where have they been when all these people were suffering? Why have they waited this long. I don't doubt their capacity, but they should put peace ahead of all their intentions."

Other leaders were more cautious. "We have to see if action will follow the words," Gulu Diocese's Fr Carlos Rodriguez said. "The people here are not that excited. When you see the same thing for many times, when it comes back again you don't receive it with the excitement one would expect," he added.

The Ugandan army insists that Kony is an international criminal. "He has been defeated militarily and now he is talking about peace talks," army spokesman Lt Chris Magezi said. "We shall give him the benefit of the doubt, but he always tends to call for peace talks whenever he is on the wall. We hope that it is not the case today; we shall continue with our full military operation against his forces."

Kony claims to be fighting to replace Museveni's government with one based on the Biblical 10 Commandments, but LRA fighters are more notorious for their brutal attacks on civilians and their abduction of tens of thousands of children for use as porters, sex slaves and child soldiers. The United Nations has described the war as one of the world's worst humanitarian crises.


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