LRA to remain in the bush until ICC indictments are lifted

Uganda's rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) has said its fighters will remain in hiding even if a peace deal with the government is reached, unless indictments against several of its leaders are lifted.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has indicted five LRA commanders, including the group's leader, Joseph Kony, and his deputy, Vincent Otti, on charges of war crimes.

"The ICC remains a big stumbling block to peace in Uganda," LRA spokesman Godfrey Ayoo told IRIN by telephone on 8 July.

"Unless and only when the matter of the ICC is settled, none of our soldiers will get out of the bush and government should forget about any signature," he said.

He said the rebels had delivered this message to the government, which, it hoped, would approach the ICC requesting the withdrawal of the arrest warrants.

Internal Affairs Minister Ruhakana Rugunda, who is also the government's team leader in the peace talks with the LRA in Southern Sudan, said he believed the ICC would only consider lifting the indictments if the issue of justice was adequately addressed under the envisaged peace agreement.

"There is no way the ICC will … review the indictments without concrete evidence that impunity has been dealt with," said Rugunda.

Rugunda said on 4 July that Uganda would amend its penal code to enable alleged war crimes committed during more than two decades of conflict in the north to be prosecuted within the traditional justice system known as Mato Oput, practised by the Acholi community in the north. The Acholi ethnic group has been most affected by the conflict.

Ayoo said the ICC issue was the "sole responsibility" of the government of Uganda. He accused the state of using the ICC indictments "as a political tool to try to make political gains where they have failed".

Civilians have borne the blunt of the two-decades-long civil war in northern Uganda, subjected to murder, mutilation, arson and abductions, with the LRA widely blamed for the atrocities.

See Also: IN-DEPTH

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