17 May 2006

Uganda: Museveni Gives Rebels Ultimatum Over Northern War

Kampala — 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.

Although the Ugandan government has offered amnesty to LRA members who surrender, Museveni has repeatedly rejected the possibility of pardoning any high-ranking officers. However, according to a government statement, "[I]f he [Joseph Kony, LRA leader] got serious about a peaceful settlement, the government would guarantee him safety."

Museveni agreed to the amnesty during a meeting on 13 May with Salva Kiir, the president of southern Sudan. On Tuesday, Museveni told Hilary Benn, the United Kingdom's international development secretary, that if Kony did not accept the latest peace offer, the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army and the Ugandan army "would jointly handle him militarily."

Benn, who had visited camps for the displaced in the northern region, told reporters that people did not feel safe enough to return to their villages, despite Museveni's assurances that the LRA is significantly weakened and poses no danger.

"There has been some improvement in the situation, but it is not yet over," said Benn. "People want to be certain that the threat no longer exists. Children as young as six or seven are walking for two hours every evening just to be able to sleep at night, free from the threat of abduction."

Benn met Museveni in the capital, Kampala, to discuss the crisis in the north. "We agreed that there must be regional cooperation to tackle the threat of the LRA, which would be helped by the appointment of a special United Nations envoy for the region," he said. "In the meantime, the people still in camps in the north will continue to need our support. The new joint monitoring committee, launched last week and drawing together local and national government, the UN, other donors and civil society, will play a vital role."

The LRA has waged a savage campaign against both the government and civilians in northern Uganda for two decades, displacing almost two million civilians and killing thousands more. The International Criminal Court has indicted five top LRA leaders for crimes against humanity, including Kony, but none of them has been arrested.

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations ]

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