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12 Sep 2008 10:41
Uganda’s fugitive rebel commander, Joseph Kony, says his fighters will defend themselves if they are attacked by Congolese and United Nations forces at their remote jungle hideouts, French radio said.
Congolese authorities have deployed several hundred soldiers, supported by UN peacekeepers, to its north-eastern border region to try to box in Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) guerrillas and stop them attacking civilians.
In a rare communication with the outside world, Kony told a Radio France International (RFI) reporter that his forces would repel any assault on its camps in the lawless Garamba Forest.
Kony reiterated his will to sign a peace deal with Uganda’s government to end 22 years of war, but said he planned to stay in the bush for some time after signing to see how the accord played out on the ground, RFI reported late on Thursday.
Kony, who is wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court, did not say when he would sign the agreement.
Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Uganda and Sudan agreed in June to launch a joint operation against the LRA, which has ravaged northern Uganda and destabilised neighbouring parts of oil-producing southern Sudan and mineral-rich eastern DRC.
The rebels are notorious for hacking off limbs, lips and noses and for abducting thousands of children to serve as fighters, porters or sex slaves. Their rebellion has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced two million more.
Two years of stop-start negotiations in neighbouring southern Sudan collapsed in April after Kony failed to emerge from the Congolese forest to sign the final peace deal.
The chief mediator at those talks, South Sudanese Vice-President Riek Machar, said on Thursday that the fate of the whole process was now in hands of the elusive rebel.
“The onus now rests with General Joseph Kony to demonstrate the LRA’s commitment to continuing,” Machar said in a statement.—Reuters
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