Kampala — Uganda's military on Thursday welcomed reports of negotiations on possible surrender of the leader of the rebel Lords Resistance Army (LRA) but cautioned it will not be able to protect the rebel leader from prosecution by the International Criminal court (ICC).
Media reports have quoted officials from Central Africa Republic (CAR) as saying they are in contact with the rebel leaders who they say is in bad health and wants assurance over his security after surrendering.
The AFP news agency quoted CAR President, Michel Djotodia saying that his government was in negotiations with Kony. "Joseph Kony wants to come out of the bush. We are negotiating with him."
Kony and his senior commanders were indicted by The Hague based ICC in 2005. He is accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
In an interview with Sudan Tribune on Thursday, the deputy spokesperson of the Uganda's military, Robert Ngabirona said they welcome reports of the notorious rebel leaders' surrender.
"We welcome him back home. We have an open amnesty for the LRA and indeed some LRA fighters who abandoned rebellion have been educated, rehabilitated and integrated in the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces(UPDF)", said Ngabirano.
The army spokesman, however, added that if the LRA leader surrenders he will not be protected from prosecution by the ICC.
"Kony is wanted by the ICC. If he surrenders, well and good. We welcome him but the ICC will have to pick on from there."
The military spokesman however said Uganda had not yet received any official communication from CAR on the negotiations it is having with the LRA.
LOCALS, AMERICANS SKEPTICAL
In northern Uganda where for 20 years, the LRA wrecked havoc displacing nearly two million people from their homes at the peak of the conflict, news of Kony's reported plan to surrender has been received with scepticism
"Kony will not surrender," said Sam Lawino, a journalist who extensively covered the conflict in northern Uganda before the LRA was flushed out of the country in 2006.
"Kony fears the ICC. I don't think he will surrender with the ICC there. It could just be a new tactic by the LRA", said Lawino.
"I will be surprised if Kony surrenders. I doubt he will," said a resident of Gulu town who did not want to be named. Gulu was at the epicentre of the conflict in the region.
Talks between the LRA and the Ugandan government ended inconclusively in the South Sudan capital of Juba, with the key sticking point being the ICC indictments which the LRA leadership wanted dropped. The Ugandan government said, as it is saying now, that it does not have the powers to drop the ICC charges.
News of LRA surrender has also been received with scepticism in Washington. An American official stated that some LRA rebels had been in contact with the government in CAR but Kony was not among them.
"At this time, we have little reason to believe that Joseph Kony is part of this group," the State Department official said. The US has a USD 5 million dollar bounty on Kony's head.
INVISIBLE CHILDREN CAUTION
The American advocacy group, Invisible Children, which has been at the forefront of the highlighting the atrocities of the LRA in northern Uganda and in the Great Lakes region cautioned on Thursday that Kony could be playing an old trick.
"Any report that Kony may want to negotiate a surrender should automatically be met with caution. None of our local sources have substantiated the claims that there is a direct communication with Kony", said the Chief Executive of the charity, Been Keesey, in a blog post adding "Additionally, Kony has used and abused the call for peace talks many times... usually at moments when his power is the weakest."
On Wednesday this week Invisible Children presented a petition to the Ugandan parliament signed by over 3,500 community members affected by the LRA conflict in four countries in the Great Lakes while calling on the international community and regional governments to do more in ending the conflict.
UGANDA ARMY WAITING FOR INSTRUCTIONS
The fight against the LRA rebels by armies in the Great Lakes region stalled after Seleka rebels who took over power in CAR in March this year ordered foreign troops to leave its territory.
But Uganda's deputy army spokesman, Robert Ngabirano said the Ugandan army is still in CAR but only at designated assembly points and with instructions not to hunt for the LRA.
"We have soldiers at assembly points but not fighting. We are waiting for orders from our Commander -in- Chief and the African Union (AU)", said Ngabirano.
About AU 3,000 troops with assistance of 100 military advisers sent by US President Barrack Obama was fighting the LRA until they were ordered to leave the country by the new government in CAR.