Lord's Resistance Army Target of New Agreement
ED GORDON, host:
Recent warrants by the International Criminal Court have turned the spotlight on a rebel group in Uganda that has evaded capture for nearly two decades. The Lord's Resistance Army says its beliefs are based on the Ten Commandments, but over the course of its existence, it's wreaked havoc on northern Uganda, victimizing children and displacing over a million people. However, a new agreement between Uganda and its northern neighbor, Sudan, could reinvigorate the campaign against the guerrilla group. Richard Lough reports.
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RICHARD LOUGH reporting:
At the ceremony in the northern Ugandan town of Gulu, former rebels of the Lord's Resistance Army accept responsibility for the atrocities they've committed. These former fighters surrendered themselves in recent months. In return, they now receive forgiveness from community leaders and a resettlement package of farming tools and seeds. The offer of amnesty has been central to the Ugandan government's efforts to bring the LRA's leader, Joseph Kony, to the negotiating table. For almost two decades, Kony's cultlike group has waged a campaign of fear, massacring civilians, slicing off the lips of survivors, and kidnapping more than 20,000 children for sex slaves and fighters. Kony has evaded all attempts to catch him by hiding in the mountains of southern Sudan. But the international arrest warrants issued void the offer of amnesty to Kony and four of his lieutenants.
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LOUGH: Religious and civic leaders lobbied the ICC to withhold the warrants, saying it was important that this be a negotiated peace. Archbishop Jean Baptiste Odama spoke at Gulu's Lateral Cathedral(ph).
Archbishop JEAN BAPTISTE ODAMA: Reconciliation is very vital part, because this war shattered us so much as a society. It also caused a lot of old grudges. There are a lot of wounds, not only in the hearts of the people here. The ICC is only going to handle five people, but it will not have solved our problem.
LOUGH: But not everyone wants to forgive. The LRA's campaign of terror has forced nearly 1.5 million people to leave their villages for squalid camps where disease and hunger are rife.
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LOUGH: This is Padare Camp(ph), where the mud-brick huts and pit latrines are barely more than a shoulder's breadth apart. Kony has sent his child soldiers to attack camps like this for the displaced. Susan Alobo(ph) is a victim of one of those attacks. She was shot by a child who'd been abducted into Kony's army. She now counsels former abductees who have escaped from the bush and wants those responsible held to account.
Ms. SUSAN ALOBO: Joseph Kony in particular, I'm not willing to forgive him, him as a man. Because he went to the Bush by himself. It was his own making that people should suffer. But these other people who were just abducted and forced into the bush, I'm willing to forgive those ones. But Kony, he's the whole artist of this rebellion.
LOUGH: While the offer of amnesty remains alive for the other members of the LRA, the chief mediator between the government and the rebels believes the ICC intervention ends any hope of a negotiated peace. Betty Begombei(ph).
Ms. BETTY BEGOMBEI: It will totally jeopardize any prospect for a permanent, peaceful resolution to the conflict. If I say `Kony, come out here, let's talk,' and you know that the ICC is right there watching and waiting to arrest him, do you think he would come? Wouldn't that be an obvious trap for anybody? He would not.
LOUGH: However, the military campaign to capture Kony may have new life. Under an agreement, Sudan has given Ugandan forces permission to hunt for Kony anywhere in Sudan with help from the Sudanese armed forces and the southern Sudan People's Liberation Army. Ugandan army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Bantariza says this could reinvigorate the military campaign.
Lieutenant Colonel BANTARIZA (Spokesman, Ugandan Army): We were all one force. Now we are three forces. Therefore, we have triple energy.
LOUGH: And perhaps that's what's needed, given for nearly two decades the Ugandan army has failed to capture Kony. But if Uganda and its neighbors are to succeed now, the diplomatic rhetoric will have to be matched by coordinated and committed military strategy. Otherwise, like so many times before, Kony will live to fight another day. For NPR News, I'm Richard Lough.
GORDON: Thanks for joining us. That's our program today.
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I'm Ed Gordon and this is NEWS & NOTES.
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