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Ugandan Rebels Ask Lawyer to Set Up Peace Talks with Government


A rebel group operating in Northern Uganda has asked a Ugandan lawyer to set up peace talks with the government outside of the country.

Ugandan lawyer Ayena Odongo told VOA Wednesday he and his Kampala law firm are waiting for a passport-size photograph of Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army that has waged a brutal war in the north for 17 years.

Kony and nine of his senior personnel have applied for passports to prepare for possible talks with the Ugandan government outside of the country, and need the photos for their passport applications.

Mr. Odongo said he has just sent off letters to the embassies of Canada, the Netherlands, and Sweden asking them whether they would be willing and able to hold peace talks between the rebels and the government.

Mr. Odongo said Kony and other Lord's Resistance Army officials had contacted him earlier, asking for his help in setting up peace talks with the government outside of the country.

The lawyer said he and other Ugandans have a big stake in any future talks.

"I come from the north myself, and I'm heavily affected by this rebel activity," said Mr. Odongo. "Since 2001 I have not been to my home. The kind of suffering that you find going on in the north is despicable."

Mr. Odongo said he has also written to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni asking him whether he and his government would come to the negotiating table with the rebels.

Presidential spokesman Francis Ekomoloit said the Ugandan government will take a "wait and see" approach to the issue of talks with the rebels.

"I know Mr. Odongo is a lawyer in town here, but as of now, I would consider his efforts as freelancing at best," he said. "The government has not condemned them, but also they have not had any formal look about them. We wait to see whether anything will come out."

Mr. Ekomoloit said, in the past few years, President Museveni had attempted several times to negotiate with Kony and the rebels, but, he says, the rebels were not serious about resolving the conflict.

He said President Museveni would be issuing a statement shortly concerning negotiations with the rebels.

Regarding passports, Mr. Ekomoloit said applicants normally would have to be law-abiding citizens, which would rule Kony and his people out. But, he said, they could be given passports under special circumstances such as peace talks.

Spokespeople from both the Canadian and the Netherlands embassies said they have not received Mr. Odongo's request, and said the decision to allow the rebels into their counties would have to be discussed by high-level officials.

Assaults by the Lord's Resistance Army have been brutal. According to United Nations figures, the group has kidnapped more than 20,000 children, who are often forced to kill their families, neighbors, and others. Young girls are often used as concubines by rebel commanders.

Some 40,000 women and children living in the rural areas travel each night to major towns to sleep because it is unsafe to stay in their houses.

The rebels attack randomly, often killing their victims or severely maiming them. Most of northern Uganda's people are living in camps guarded by the army as a way of avoiding rebel attacks.

When the rebel group first started their violence in the late 1980s, Kony had said his group wanted to overthrow the Ugandan government and form a society based on the Biblical Ten Commandments. But his motives for fighting now are unclear.