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International Court Wants Uganda Rebel Leader Despite Amnesty Offer

The International Criminal Court says its arrest warrant for the leader of the Uganda's rebel Lord's Resistance Army remains in place, despite an offer of amnesty made by Ugandan government.

In what appears to be a reversal of policy, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has promised amnesty for rebel leader Joseph Kony if peace talks set for next week go well.

On Tuesday, Kony - who has waged nearly two decades of brutal war in northern Uganda - was also promised a presidential pardon if he abandons what Mr. Museveni called "terrorism."

But the International Criminal Court in The Hague issued arrest warrants last year against Kony and five top associates on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Court Spokesman Ernest Sagaga says the arrest warrants will remain in place, despite the latest developments.

"I think there are two things that one has to distinguish," said Ernest Sagaga. "There is a peace process between Ugandans and a judicial process before the ICC [the International Criminal Court]. Now, the ICC has no part to play in the peace process. And therefore I cannot comment; not on the context, not on the details on the peace process that is about to start among Ugandans."

But there has been criticism among observers, diplomats, and some Ugandans that the warrants set back efforts to get peace talks going by sending the rebel leaders on the run.

ICC spokesman Sagaga denies the courts' actions hurt prospects for a peace settlement.

"But I think if what you look at what the court has done ever since the prosecutor began the investigation into Uganda, the court has been and is very much mindful of the context in Uganda," he said. "And I think that every effort has been made to reach out to all players in that country. However, the only thing we can do is what is allowed under the mandate of the court. "

A researcher for the International Crisis Group in Washington, Colin-Thomas Jensen, says this most recent attempt to end the war in northern Uganda is in its early stages and that very little is known about the will of Kony or President Museveni to settle the conflict. He says it makes sense the ICC would maintain its position to arrest Uganda's alleged war criminals.

But Thomas-Jensen says one of the biggest problems for the court is that its arrest warrants were issued in a vacuum.

"That is, there was very little ground work put into exactly how those warrants were going to be executed," said Colin-Thomas Jensen. "Now, that is not the fault of the court. The court is a mechanism for dispensing justice. It does not have a special forces unit that can nab its indictees. It relies on its supporters and the will of the international community. As we saw in Uganda, the warrants were issued and yet there was very little response or plan from the international community on how those warrants were be executed."

Thomas-Jensen says it is too early to know why the Museveni government suddenly decided to offer amnesty after vowing to cooperate with the ICC.

"His motivations to many people who follow the situation are not quite clear yet," he said. "But certainly there is a lot of public pressure in northern Uganda to deal with LRA and the war and there is a lot of pressure from the government of southern Sudan. The southern Sudanese in their visits with the U.S. government have made very clear that dealing the LRA is a serious problem and is undermining the Comprehensive Peace Agreement [with Khartoum]. And so mild pressure from the U.S. and those pressures have been pushing him towards coming up with a solution; something that can actually end the conflict."

There may also be a third party solution whereby Kony would agree to end the war and be transferred to a country that has not signed onto the International Criminal Court.

But as the two sides prepare for next week's talks - mediated by the government of southern Sudan - the 19-year war in northern Uganda is not over. More than one million northern Ugandans remain displaced and living in camps and children live in fear of rebel abduction.