The International Criminal Court has agreed to make a preliminary investigation of a Ugandan rebel group, opening the way to possible prosecution of the group's leaders. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni discussed the case with the court's chief prosecutor in London.
Uganda has become the first nation to ask the newly formed permanent war crimes tribunal in the Hague to open a case.
Uganda is seeking prosecution of the leaders of the Lord's Resistance Army, a rebel group accused of attacks on civilians and the abduction of thousands of children used as sex slaves and fighters.
President Museveni told a London news conference the LRA operates from bases in Sudan to attack northern Uganda, and he says it is time their leaders' impunity was ended.
"These characters are not fighters in the common sense of the word," he said. "They are terrorists, committing the most barbaric atrocities."
Also appearing at the news conference was the chief prosecutor of the court, Luis Moreno Ocampo. He said United Nations human rights officials have identified the Ugandan conflict as one of the world's worst humanitarian crises.
He says he will begin the process against the LRA by informing all the countries that recognize the court that a case is being opened. He said he will then take two or three months to gather information on the LRA's alleged crimes and after that he could open a formal investigation, probably in June. The prosecutor says if there is enough evidence, arrest warrants could go out in September and a trial might be held in 2005.
Mr. Moreno Ocampo stressed that the world's nations must cooperate for the court to do its job. "This will be a test for the international community. This will be the first time in which we will request the support of the international community," he said.
The LRA has been fighting the Museveni government of 17 years, saying it wants to install a government based on the Bible's Ten Commandments.