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Britain to Mediate Between Uganda's President, Rebels - 2004-04-06

Britain's foreign aid chief is visiting Uganda to press for an end to an 18-year war between a northern rebel army and the government of President Yoweri Museveni.

British International Development Secretary Hilary Benn says President Museveni must not rely solely on the military to defeat the Lord's Resistance Army.

Speaking from Kampala to British radio, Mr. Benn said he has some suggestions for President Museveni on how to fight the rebels by draining off their popular support.

"A military solution, given that this has been going on for 18 years now, cannot be the only solution," said Mr. Benn. "There is the amnesty which the government has put in place, it is important that that is renewed. We need to get across the message that enables people to come out of the bush to say: 'This is what happened to us. We were not killed. We are able to be reintegrated into the community.' In other words, to give those who are caught up in this terrible conflict the hope that life can be different if they lay down their arms."

Mr. Benn said Britain has established a radio station in northern Uganda to broadcast such messages, in hopes of attracting more rebels to give up the fight.

But in the meantime, Mr. Benn said the war is holding back Uganda's economic progress.

Uganda has achieved a great deal in recent years. And that is the tragedy of what is happening in the north. One of the difficulties, of course, is that the Lords Resistance Army is a cult, rather than a political organization and it is very difficult to know what they want.

The Lord's Resistance Army has said it wants to install a government based on the Bible's Ten Commandments. Human rights monitors say the group has abducted about 20,000 children for use as sex slaves and fighters, and the war has displaced 1.5 million people.