Ugandan rebels abandon bush under landmark truce

Bands of Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels trekked out of hideouts in northern Uganda on Monday, officials said, raising hopes that a landmark truce could signal an end to years of devastating war.

They said several hundred fighters, including top field commanders, whose brutal, two-decade insurgency has killed tens of thousands and displaced nearly two million, were moving in groups and had requested government help.

Under the terms of the truce that took effect last week, the rebels have three weeks to make their way to two neutral camps in southern Sudan and officials said they were encouraged by the response despite LRA complaints.

Walter Ochola, commissioner for Gulu district, the epicentre of the 19-year conflict, said he was particularly pleased that one the LRA’s most notorious commanders had contacted authorities for assistance.

He said Domnic Ongwen, who has been charged with war crimes by the International Criminal Court along with elusive rebel supremo Joseph Kony and three others, one of whom is now dead, was seeking provisions.

“Many groups have crossed over to Sudan and [on Sunday] in Kalong, Kitgum district, one LRA group that was moving got in touch with an army commander there and asked for food and water,” Ochola told Agence France-Presse, referring to Ongwen.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has offered a blanket amnesty to Kony and his top aides along with rank-and-file rebel fighters if they agree to a peace deal at talks being mediated by the government of autonomous southern Sudan.

Ongwen’s request for assistance appeared to confirm the LRA’s willingness to abide by the terms of the truce that calls for the rebels to live at the two camps for the duration of the peace talks, officials said.

The LRA is believed to have between 500 and 5 000 rebels under arms, many of them illiterate and hungry child soldiers cut off from the outside world in northern Uganda, southern Sudan and eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

The peace talks in the southern Sudanese capital of Juba are seen by many as the best chance yet to end the conflict that is regularly described as one of the world’s worst and most-forgotten humanitarian crises.—AFP

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