The Monitor (Kampala)

Uganda: Museveni Amnesty to Kony Illegal - ICC

THE International Criminal Court has reminded Uganda of her obligation to arrest Lord's Resistance Army rebel leader Joseph Kony.

The ICC also warned on Tuesday that any offer of Amnesty to the LRA contravenes the Rome Statute which the country ratified.

The warning was a swift reaction to President Yoweri Museveni's offer of amnesty to Kony.

Museveni on Tuesday pledged total amnesty to Kony despite his indictment by the ICC if he responds positively to peace talks being mediated by the Southern Sudan government.

The talks are expected to kick off next week in Juba Southern Sudan's capital.

"Right now, we can only repeat what we said a few months ago. We expect the three countries (Uganda, Sudan and DR Congo) which are involved and signed and ratified the treaty to arrest the rebel leaders who are wanted," Mr Christian Palme, the spokesperson for the ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo, said on Tuesday.

On March 17, 1997, Uganda signed the Rome Statute and ratified it on June 14 2002.

Article 59 of the Statute, which governs the ICC, reads; "A State Party which has received a request for provisional arrest or for arrest and surrender shall immediately take steps to arrest the person in question in accordance with its laws and the provisions of Part 9."

The ICC was established in 2002 by the Treaty of Rome to try war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

Acting on a request from Uganda, the ICC initiated investigations into the northern war and eventually indicted Kony and his top commanders for war crimes and crimes against humanity in October 2005. Arrest warrants were issued against Kony, Vincent Otti, Okot Odhiambo, Dominic Ongwen and Raska Lukwiya.

Kony and his top commanders face 33 counts.

"The position of the court is that these warrants of arrest remain in force and the court has received assurances from the relevant countries that they will cooperate in effecting these warrants of arrest," the ICC's registry spokesman Ernest Sagaga told the BBC's Network Africa programme.

When asked if the ICC would withdraw the arrest warrants in the interest of peace, Mr Sagaga said he was unable to comment on this, saying it would be "premature to do so."

He said since the court did not have its own army or police force, member countries were obliged and expected to cooperate with it.

Even though the Southern Sudan and Ugandan governments were planning to meet the rebels, he said: "We have no reason not to believe what they said to the court that their cooperation will be forthcoming regarding this matter."

Museveni's offer of amnesty to Kony came amid calls for Kony's arrest and subsequent prosecution by the UN and the ICC. Museveni said he's willing to pardon Kony because the noble cause of trying Kony before the ICC had been betrayed by the failure of the UN, which set up the court, to arrest him, despite knowing his location in DR Congo's Garamba National Park.

The UN maintains a peacekeeping mission (Monuc) in the DR Congo.

However, the Director of the Media Centre, Mr Robert Kabushenga, said Uganda takes the ICC very seriously.

"We would have liked to arrest the indictees and hand them over to the ICC for prosecution. Unfortunately, neither Uganda nor the ICC have reliable partners in the region to realise this objective," Kabushenga in statement yesterday.

"The UN and the DR Congo have refused to allow Uganda to enter Congo and solve the Kony problem."

He said: "In such circumstances we can only deal with this matter in the manner which it is hoped will be more effective."

Kabushenga said it is important for Ugandans to remember that it is "the people of northern Uganda and Southern Sudan that have been terrorised by the LRA. Therefore the two administrations will collaborate in whatever way to bring an end to this suffering."

He said despite the LRA repeated attacks in parts of Southern Sudan in the Yambio-Meridi areas, "It was agreed with the government of Southern Sudan that the defeated LRA terrorists be given the option of a soft landing.

"This would take the form of peace talks that lead to them to abandoning terrorism and coming out of the bush. This option is open for a period of two months, starting May 2006," he said.

Last year, Parliament amended the Amnesty Act to exclude Kony and his top commanders from those eligible for pardon.

However, the Chairman of the Amnesty Commission, Justice Peter Onega told Daily Monitor yesterday that Kony is eligible for amnesty given the loopholes in the law.

"The amendment only gives the Internal Affairs minister powers to forward to Parliament names of people who should be excluded from benefiting from Amnesty," Onega said.

"As far as I know, it went as far as that no name has up to today been produced."

Meanwhile, the peace talks and amnesty for Kony have been widely hailed in Uganda.

The opposition Chief Whip in Parliament, Mr Wadri Kasiano, said: "Museveni is contradicting himself, but his move is a benefit to our people who have suffered for many years. We hope there be no time wasting this time."

The Uganda Peoples Congress too saluted the move.

The party Secretary General ,Mr Peter Walubiri, said the move would bring everlasting peace to the northern region which has borne the brunt of the 20-year-old conflict.

MP John Odit (Erute South MP) said: "Technically and procedurally it's a requirement for the government to come back to Parliament to amend the law. Personally, my people and I have gone through the suffering for more than 20 years and we need peace whatever it takes," he said.

Mr Henry Banyenzaki (Rubanda West MP ), however, said Kony should be executed.

"What Kony has done to the people in the north is similar to the Rwanda genocide. We reported Kony to ICC and we should leave him to face the law," he said.

Bunyole MP Emmanuel Dombo said: "Museveni is the fountain of honour and the Commander in Chief at the helm of fighting Kony. If Museveni now feels that he should forgive Kony, we as Parliament should give him necessary support."

Additional Reporting By AGNESS NANDUTU & EVELYN LIRRI

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