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Ugandan Rebel Official: Trial of Lord’s Resistance Army Commander a Publicity Stunt

The leader of the Lord's Resistance Army, Joseph Kony, answers journalists' questions following a meeting with UN officials in southern Sudan, Nov 2006 (file photo)

A leading member of the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) calls the trial of one of its former commanders a publicity stunt.

Justine Labeja is the acting leader of the LRA’s peace team.The timing of the trial, he said, is a government attempt to gain public sympathy after the recent and sometimes violent protests against the rising prices of petrol and food.

“What they are doing is not right at all…. They are doing this trial at the wrong time with the wrong person,” said Labeja.

On Monday, Uganda began its first war crimes trial with a case against a leader of the LRA, former Colonel Thomas Kwoyelo.

It opened under tight security at the War Crimes Division of the High Court in Gulu. Kwoyelo is charged with willful killing, hostage taking, destruction of property and causing injury to people, especially in the northern districts of Gulu, Kitgum and Pader.

Government supporters say the conflict with the LRA will end as rebels leaders are caught and tried in a court of law. But Labeja said Kwoyelo’s trial is not likely to end the fighting. He also blamed Kampala for the breakdown of the 2008 ceasefire agreement.

“During the time of the negotiations, this trial was supposed to be after the peace agreement [was signed],” said Labeja. “But the Ugandan government messed up the negotiations with war, when they went and attacked the LRA …and the peace agreement [was never signed].”

The government has accused the rebels of killing, kidnapping and mutilating tens of thousands of people across central Africa since the late 1980s.

Last month, 39 aid groups warned that the LRA continues to terrorize communities in Congo, Central African Republic and South Sudan.

Three LRA leaders - Joseph Kony, Okot Odhiambo and Dominic Ongwen - are wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Labeja insisted the LRA is not the only group that should be investigated for crimes against civilians.

“The LRA [rebels] were fighting the UPDF [Uganda Peoples Defense Force, now the government army], so I believe the UPDF did some things that must be investigated [too],” said Labeja. “But, to put all the blame on one side is not justice.”