Uganda rebels threaten tenuous peace

Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels reiterated a threat on Monday to keep fighting one of Africa’s longest insurgencies unless international arrest warrants for their top commanders are scrapped.

The government and rebels signed a long-awaited truce in August, supposed to give both sides breathing space while peace talks aimed at ending their 20-year rebellion continued in the south Sudanese capital Juba.

But LRA leader Joseph Kony and deputy Vincent Otti have refused to leave their jungle hideouts on the Sudan/Democratic Republic of Congo border to talk directly, fearing arrests over war-crimes indictments against them by the Hague-based International Criminal Court.

“They should not expect us to sign an agreement and later cage our leaders in The Hague. Our leaders are not fools,” LRA spokesperson Godfrey Ayoo told journalists in Juba.

The charges against five top LRA commanders are seen as a test case for the fledgling human rights court, but many Ugandans see it as an obstacle to a long-awaited peace deal.

“As long as the ICC indictments still stand, no single soldier is going to come out of the bush. This is the position we have taken and it will not change,” Ayoo said.

Despite a ceasefire, tempers have frayed between the LRA and the Ugandan army in the past two weeks.

The government accuses the LRA of failing to gather in two meeting points in southern Sudan agreed under the truce and has threatened to attack any LRA still in northern Uganda.

The LRA accuses the army of surrounding their fighters in the meeting points, planning an attack.

The rebels gained notoriety during their insurrection for brutally killing civilians, hacking body parts off people they accused of being government collaborators and kidnapping thousands of children to use as fighters and sex slaves.

Fear of rebel attacks have driven nearly two million from their homes and into squalid refugee camps.

Many Ugandans in the war-torn north say they would happily sacrifice international justice for the sake of peace.

“We are going to keep on talking here in Juba but those involved should know that the indictments are a major stumbling block,” Ayoo said.

President Yoweri Museveni, who despite having written to the ICC last year to request the indictments, has said he would be willing to offer the LRA leaders amnesty from prosecution but only after a peace deal is signed.—Reuters