Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Museveni gives LRA rebels 2 month ultimatum or face a combined force of Ugandan and southern Sudanese troops

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has given the leaders of the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) a two-month ultimatum "to peacefully end terrorism" or face a combined force of Ugandan and southern Sudanese troops. Full report by IRIN via Reuters May 17, 2006.

Reuters by Daniel Wallis May 17, 2006:

Uganda will guarantee the safety of an internationally wanted rebel leader if he gives up his 20-year insurgency before the end of July, President Yoweri Museveni said in a statement released late on Tuesday.

Joseph Kony, the self-proclaimed prophet chief of northern Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) was the first target of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which last year issued arrest warrants for the former altar boy and his top deputies.

Experts said the ICC's move effectively blocked any further talks with the leadership of the cult-like group, notorious for slaughtering villagers and abducting thousands of children.

Diplomats said at the weekend the leader of neighbouring southern Sudan, Salva Kiir, passed Museveni a message from the elusive LRA boss.

They say it was Kony's first attempt to communicate with Museveni in more than a decade, and during a meeting on Tuesday with British International Development Secretary Hilary Benn, Museveni said he and Kiir had agreed to give Kony "a last chance".

The statement from Museveni's office mentioned the ICC's indictment of Kony and four of his commanders, but added: "If he got serious about a peaceful settlement, the government of Uganda would guarantee his safety."

The vice president of southern Sudan, Riek Machar, met secretly with Joseph Kony two weeks ago and reached a deal to stop the group terrorising villagers in the south, Machar's office said in a statement on Wednesday.

"They agreed that there should be no more attacks on the civilian population in the south by this group and...to release all captives from the south immediately," the statement read out over the telephone to Reuters, said.

It also said Kony agreed to talks with Museveni with mediation from the south Sudan government and that Kiir had given Museveni a videotape of the meeting held near Yambio town near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

'HANDLE HIM'

For years, the LRA have used bases in the lawless mountains of southern Sudan to raid northern Uganda, where the war has uprooted up to two million people and triggered one of the world's worst humanitarian disasters.

The LRA has no clear political aims beyond opposition to Museveni. Last year, a group of its fighters moved from Sudan into the jungles of neighbouring DRC.

On Saturday -- after attending Museveni's inauguration the day before -- Kiir briefed the Ugandan leader.

"The president said if Kony did not take up the latest peace offer, Kiir and he agreed that (Kiir's former rebels) the Sudanese People's Liberation Army and Uganda's military would jointly handle him militarily," the statement said.

Previous attempts at dialogue stalled early last year after the main rebel negotiator surrendered. The unsealing of ICC arrest warrants in October effectively ended any practical support for more talks with Kony, diplomats said.

(Additional reporting by Kamilo Tafeng in Sudan)

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