Uganda's war victims prefer peace over punishment

By Tim Cocks

OTURUKUME, Uganda, April 30 (Reuters) - Pasca Lakob doesn't see much point in punishing the Ugandan guerrilla leader whose fighters murdered many of her family and friends.

"His atrocities are so evil, there's no punishment that could fit the crime. They might as well pardon him," she said of Lord's Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony.

Many Ugandans living in the north agree, despite having borne the brunt of a vicious two-decade insurgency that killed tens of thousands of people and spawned 1.7 million refugees.

Peace talks aiming to end one of Africa's longest wars restarted on Thursday in southern Sudan, but their success hinges on the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

Kony and four other commanders are wanted for war crimes by the ICC and the fugitive rebel leader has said he will never make peace unless international tribunal drops the charges.

Lakob, 30, has reason to want Kony indicted.

"The LRA killed most of my family and husband's family," she said. "I returned to my village one evening to find their bodies. They had been beaten to death with clubs."

She fled that night to one of the north's miserably congested refugee camps, where she lived for 10 years before moving back home, buoyed by a truce signed last year between the LRA and the government at peace talks.

Harrowing as her tale is, Lakob wants peace more than retribution. "I can forgive him if he stops this," she said, as a malnourished child with a swollen belly devoured a small slice of mango next to her mud hut.


Since peace talks started, a wave of popular opposition to the ICC amongst northern Ugandans -- the main victims of Kony's cult-like rebel group -- has dismayed rights groups.

Northerners say only a lifting of the indictments will bring lasting peace.

"That is what is going to decide the future of Uganda," northern politician and peace campaigner Norbert Mao told Reuters. "The ICC ... must stay out of the process."

Traditional leaders from Kony's Acholi tribe want him and his henchmen to undergo a reconciliation ritual.

Traditional, or Mato Oput, justice involves a murderer facing relatives of the victim and admitting his crime before both drink a bitter brew made from a tree root mixed with sheep's blood.

The ICC has said it will not withdraw its warrants and U.N. officials have said those who blame the tribunal for holding up the peace process are engaging in revisionist history.

Groups like Human Rights Watch say the LRA leaders must face penalties that reflect the gravity of their crimes, which include killing civilians, mutilating victims and kidnapping children to recruit as fighters and sex-slaves.

Some northerners agree.

"He has committed a crime and must face justice. Instead of talking, why doesn't the ICC take action?" said Alphonse Otto, 67, who lives in Pabbo refugee camp alongside 50,000 others.


Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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