The Ugandan army says it now doubts the authenticity of an apparent peace overture by northern rebels last month. An army spokesman says there is no evidence to confirm claims by rebel commanders that their leader wants to make peace.

Last month, a senior Lord's Resistance Army commander, Sam Kolo, met with a government mediator in a town north of the capital, Kampala, to begin talks aimed at finding a peaceful solution to the brutal 18-year civil war in northern Uganda.

Commander Kolo told the mediator that he and two other junior commanders were sent to represent the rebel group by LRA's long-time leader, Joseph Kony.

But a Ugandan army spokesman Major Shaban Bantariza tells VOA that the military now believes Joseph Kony did not order any of his commanders to seek peace with the Ugandan government.

"What we've been getting from our intelligence, he has not given them directions to act on his behalf," he said. "Kony is unpredictable. Unless he makes a direct statement of that, you cannot be sure."

Major Bantariza says the military is convinced the LRA commanders wanted to open a dialogue with the government out of desperation to end the war.

In recent years, the Ugandan government has carried out a series of large-scale military raids in an effort to wipe out the LRA and capture Joseph Kony. The LRA leader still remains at large, perhaps in his northern Uganda stronghold or at his hideout across the border in southern Sudan.

But the government says it believes his forces have been decimated. Many rebels have escaped and received amnesty from the government. The remaining LRA foot soldiers, many of them children, are reported to be exhausted and hungry, spending much of their time looting villages for food.

On November 16, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni declared a month-long ceasefire in the Kitgum area of northern Uganda, and designated it a safe zone for rebels to pass through so they could meet and prepare for peace talks. The ceasefire is scheduled to end next Wednesday, but the government says it would extend it if the rebels showed genuine willingness to lay down their arms.

The Ugandan army spokesman, Major Bantariza, says if Joseph Kony is not one of those willing to surrender, the Ugandan military will continue to hunt for him until he is caught or killed.

The United Nations has called the conflict in Uganda one of the world's most neglected humanitarian disasters.

Over the years, the LRA's campaign of terror has resulted in the massacre and mutilation of thousands of civilians and the abduction of tens of thousands of children. The insurgency has also forced more than one and a half million people to live in squalid refugee camps, where death rates are double those in the rest of the country.

Initially, the LRA said that it was fighting to topple President Museveni's government and replace it with a government based on the Biblical Ten Commandments. But, like its leader, the group's actual goals have remained elusive.