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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
13 November 2006

SUDAN-UGANDA: 'No child captives here,' rebels tell UN

RI-KWANGBA, 13 Nov 2006 (IRIN) - Joseph Kony, the Ugandan rebel leader, told the top United Nations humanitarian official that his group did not hold any children captive, insisting instead that he only had 'combatants' in rebel ranks.

"We don't have any children in our movement, there is [sic] only combatants," Kony said after a short meeting on Sunday with the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Jan Egeland, near the border between Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Kony, leader of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), is notorious for kidnapping children to fight in his ranks or to serve as sex slaves to his commanders.

Egeland met the rebel leader under a tarpaulin at a muddy clearing in Ri-Kwangba, one of two assembly points in southern Sudan, where LRA fighters are expected to gather after a landmark cease-fire agreed with the Ugandan government in Juba, capital of southern Sudan.

Egeland said he had asked Kony: "What I should tell the mothers who have been crying and begging to see their abducted children?"

Egeland had hoped to secure the release of women, children and injured fighters but came away empty-handed after waiting more than two hours for the reclusive LRA leader.

"I think it was an important meeting because it was the first time we have been able to impress on the highest command of the LRA the whole range of humanitarian issues, such as the need for a genuine cessation of hostilities and [the] return [of] those they've abducted," Egeland said.

The rebel group signed a new truce this month with the Ugandan government, paving the way for further talks to end the war and allow the two million people who have been displaced by two decades of fighting in the region to return home.

Kony and his high command have, however, refused to attend the Juba talks, despite signing the agreement, fearing arrest on war crimes charges.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued warrants for the arrest of five commanders, including Kony and his deputy Vincent Otti, accusing them of crimes against humanity.

The ICC’s move has been opposed by many people in northern Ugandan, who say the court's involvement will only prolong the conflict.

The Ugandan government has promised Kony an amnesty if the talks succeed, suggesting that traditional northern Ugandan forms of justice may be adopted to end the conflict.

Kony and Otti told Egeland the ICC arrest warrants were a major obstacle to the talks. "If the warrants are lifted, then we can go to the peace talks," Otti said.

Saying he could not comment on the ICC because of its independence, Egeland noted after the meeting that the issue of justice had to be addressed. "Peace and justice have to go hand in hand," he said. "There can be no lasting peace without justice."

Few, if any, LRA fighters have gathered at Ri-Kwangba, one of two assembly points set up by the cessation of hostilities agreement. The rebels are said to prefer their own well-equipped base to the muddy assembly point, replete with flies buzzing around bags of rotting sugar.

Egeland pledged to improve conditions in the camps, saying: "We have a major stake as the international community in this working and so hopefully we will see them assemble in the next few weeks."

He also said the rehabilitation of northern Uganda would be a priority. Funding, he added, had been secured to provide UN support to the peace talks and to assist those who would gather at the assembly points under the cessation of hostilities agreement.

Before flying out to meet Kony, Egeland had met parties in Juba involved in trying to end northern Uganda's brutal 20-year civil war.

"I think we can make progress. It took time before the international community saw the potential of the process. We now realise this and are there to help," Egeland said after meeting the chief mediator of the talks, Riek Machar, the south Sudanese Vice-President.



This material comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts should include attribution to the original sources. All materials copyright © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2006

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