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International Criminal Court Issues Warrants for Ugandan Rebels

The International Criminal Court has issued arrest warrants for five members of the Ugandan rebel group, the Lord's Resistance Army.

Ugandan Army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Shaban Bantariza tells VOA he understands that the court is targeting key figures of the Lord's Resistance Army, a group that has been terrorizing northern Ugandans for almost two decades.

The Ugandan army spokesman says, if rebel leaders are isolated and captured, the group will likely fall apart.

Lord's Resistance Army bases are also located in southern Sudan and, recently, in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Lieutenant Colonel Bantariza says the key to successful arrests is regional cooperation.

"Well, it won't be easy, but it requires a lot of effort by all the stakeholders in the region," he said. "If everybody cooperates well, it should not be very difficult - we should be able to get them."

A United Nations official, American diplomat William Lacy Swing, told reporters Thursday that The Hague-based International Criminal Court has issued arrest warrants for five Lord's Resistance Army leaders.

The names have not been made public by U.N. officials, but experts predict they likely will include LRA head Joseph Kony and his deputy, Vincent Otti. Lieutenant Colonel Bantariza says he is also waiting for the names.

But the International Criminal Court has said nothing official on the subject.

"I'm aware of those statements made by U.N. officials, but I cannot comment," said Yves Sorokobi, spokesperson for the Office of the Prosecutor.

The International Criminal Court was set up several years ago to try individuals for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

In December 2003, President Yoweri Museveni appealed to ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo to investigate the situation in northern Uganda. The ICC launched its investigation some seven months later.

The Lord's Resistance Army has been abducting, mutilating, torturing, raping and killing local residents since the late 1980s.

More than 1.5 million people across the north have moved into camps guarded by the army.

Human Rights Watch recently issued a report condemning the rebel brutality, but calling on the International Criminal Court to also investigate certain Ugandan army soldiers, who the group says have committed human rights abuses.

According to the report, government soldiers rape, arbitrarily detain, beat and kill people living in camps designed to protect residents against the rebels.

In an earlier interview with VOA, the Uganda researcher at Human Rights Watch, Jemera Rone, said that many women are vulnerable to being raped by soldiers.

"When they [women] go out of the camp, they really do run a certain risk of being abused by Ugandan soldiers who just see them and take the opportunity because they know they can get away with it," she said.

Lieutenant Colonel Shaban Bantariza had said four soldiers have been executed since 2002 for murdering civilians, one captain is in jail for deserting his post during a rebel attack, and three soldiers are currently being investigated for rape.