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Uganda Makes New Offer to Rebel Leader


Uganda President Yoweri says he can guarantee the safety of the leader of the rebel Lord's Resistance Army, if certain conditions are met. The offer is yet another attempt to end Uganda's devastating civil war, a conflict that one leading expert says could be resolved within the year.

The short statement from President Museveni's office, reported in the media, says rebel leader Joseph Kony, who is facing war-crimes charges, needs to get serious about a peaceful settlement before the end of July.

The reports say this latest peace initiative was made during a secret meeting between Kony and the southern Sudan vice president two weeks ago - during which the rebel leader reportedly agreed to stop attacking civilians and hold talks with the Ugandan president.

The Lord's Resistance Army was once supported by the Sudanese government and was allowed to set up camps in southern Sudan.

A senior adviser at the International Crisis Group, John Prendergast, says the war in northern Uganda, which has seen repeated failures in setting up peace talks and a cease-fire, could be ended easily and quickly.

"After 20 years, I think this war has a very good chance of ending with a few additional inputs over the next year and with sufficient political will. Given the lack of any real political agenda on the part of the LRA, it may be the easiest war in Africa to resolve. But we will never know until we try," he said.

And there are compelling humanitarian reasons to end the war.

Among them: tens of thousands of people dead, 1.5 million others displaced and living in squalid camps, the routine abduction of children to serve as soldiers and sex slaves, and the ongoing destabilization in the region.

Once operating out of bases in southern Sudan, the rebels, according to Prendergast, have moved into eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

"I think the move from Sudan into the Congo is fairly significant. I think it is due to some degree to international pressure. So what they are doing is reorganizing in the Congo, recruiting in Sudan. The capacity to expand for the LRA in the Congo is only limited by food, by training, by concerns over detection. They basically have a freehand right now in the Congo," he said.

Last year, Kony and four of his top associates were indicted on war crimes charges by the International Criminal Court in the Hague. The ICC says it will prosecute all five, if they can be captured. That means offering amnesty, as the Ugandan president appears to be doing in this latest offer, may not be a legal option.

But no matter how grim the situation may seem, Prendergast believes there are opportunities to finally put this conflict to rest and begin resettling the ethnic Acholi people of northern Uganda.

"I think the continuing deterioration of the LRA is an opportunity. You look at the kind of situation they enjoyed just a half-decade ago, when they had their rear bases in Sudan to the point now where they are literally living off the land in eastern Congo," he said. "Another opportunity that exists now is that there is a new administration in the north. They threw the bums out in the election. There are a bunch of new guys, people who are much more sympathetic to a peaceful resolution to the conflict. I think President Museveni's legacy is an opportunity. I am convinced after years of dealing with this guy that like most politicians, he has an ego that knows no bounds. And I think the embarrassment of this cycle of this pronouncements about the end of the LRA and then, watching them come back over and over again has worn on him and if there was a way to finish this thing, he would jump on it."

Prendergast also points out another missing element towards peace in Uganda: a so-called diplomatic "carrot" that would offer rebels a way out of life in the bush - economic and education opportunities that could lessen the pull of war and help former fighters become productive citizens.

As for President Museveni's offer to Kony, there has been no public response.