Uganda

Uganda: Museveni extends olive branch to LRA leader

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KAMPALA, 8 Jun 2005 (IRIN) - Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni pledged on Tuesday to forgive the leader of the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), Joseph Kony, if he gave up fighting and came out of the bush.

"I will forgive Kony if he comes out - but if he refuses to come out, we shall sort it out with him," Museveni told parliament in his state of the nation address.

He assured Kony that he would receive the same fair treatment and immunity from prosecution as other former LRA commanders, such as former LRA spokesman Brig Sam Kolo, who had surrendered to the government.

In 2000, the Ugandan parliament passed a blanket amnesty law promising total immunity to rebels who had surrendered, a move designed to weaken the insurgency by encouraging its fighters to desert the LRA.

Museveni had in the past expressed a desire to exclude the LRA's leadership, including Kony, from eligibility for the amnesty.

In his speech, he dismissed suggestions that the military option the government has employed in the 19-year war was aggravating the humanitarian situation in the north of the country. He said such insinuations were ploys by people who did not want the rebellion to end.

"We have captured some [of the rebels] and killed many of them, and the entire northern region is now accessible for relief delivery," he said. "What may be stopping us is lack of enough resources, not because some camps cannot be reached.

"Those talking about humanitarian concerns are people who do not want Kony to be defeated," Museveni added.

The LRA, led by the self-proclaimed spiritualist Kony, has been at war with the government since 1986, fighting to replace the country's secular administration with one based on Christian teaching and the Bible's Ten Commandments.

The shadowy group is notorious for atrocities against civilians and for abducting villagers, especially children, for use as labourers, soldiers and sex slaves.

In close to two decades, the conflict has displaced more than 1.6 million people, who are living in squalid conditions in camps across northern and eastern Uganda.

Museveni welcomed improved relations with the East African country's northern neighbour, Sudan. "Improved relations between Uganda and Sudan have enabled us to track down these terrorists, and this problem of Kony is being resolved."

He country's role in the peace process in neighbouring Burundi illustrated that Uganda was enjoying good relations with its neighbours. Uganda is the chair of the Great Lakes region's initiative to bring peace to war-torn Burundi.

"Misunderstandings with some of them [neighbouring countries] are not peace-threatening," he said.

[ENDS]

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