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Sudan Lends Cooperation to Uganda in Fight Against Rebels - 2002-03-14

Sudan has agreed to let troops from neighboring Uganda enter its territory to attack rebels who have been trying for years to overthrow the Ugandan government. The Ugandan army is now calling on the rebels, known as the Lord's Resistance Army, to surrender or be defeated.

Ugandan officials have said the agreement gives them what they have long been waiting for, the chance to eliminate the Lord's Resistance Army once and for all. A spokesman for the Ugandan army, Major Shaban Bantariza, told VOA Thursday, the agreement sets the stage for a decisive blow against rebels, who have been terrorizing the people of northern Uganda for the last 16 years.

Under the agreement, Sudan said it will allow Ugandan forces to carry out limited military operations within the borders of Sudan against the Lord's Resistance Army.

Major Shaban Bantariza says the agreement will make it much easier for Uganda to fight the LRA rebels. "When the foreign territory authorities authorize you to smoke out your enemies from their own territory it means you have got a freer hand. And therefore we expect to perform much better than we did previously," he said.

The rebels claim to be fighting to establish rule based on the biblical Ten Commandments. Operating from bases in southern Sudan, they have regularly launched raids into northern Uganda.

Thousands of people have been killed during the years of fighting and hundreds of thousands have been displaced. In addition, it is estimated that about 10,000 Ugandan children have been abducted by the LRA, to be used as soldiers, porters or sex slaves. Some of the children manage to escape, but several thousand are still believed to be in rebel custody.

Major Bantariza said the leader of the LRA, Joseph Kony, should release the children. "My message to Kony? Let him release the children who are innocent and do not know what he is fighting for and are not interested in fighting at all. That's one. Two, let him take advantage of the amnesty that has been put in place for everybody, probably including himself," Major Bantariza said.

Sudan had for many years given sanctuary to the LRA in retaliation for Uganda's support of the Sudan People's Liberation Army, a rebel group based in southern Sudan that is seeking greater autonomy from the Khartoum government in the north.

However, relations between the two countries have improved in recent years. In 1999, Sudan and Uganda signed an agreement under which Sudan said it would stop aiding the LRA and Uganda would stop aiding the SPLA.