August 29, 2006

Uganda military starts truce with LRA rebels

By Daniel Wallis

KAMPALA (Reuters) - A truce between the Ugandan army and
northern guerrillas notorious for their savagery and use of
child soldiers started on Tuesday, bringing closer the end of
one of Africa's longest insurgencies.

Under the pact signed on Saturday, fugitive Lord's
Resistance Army (LRA) rebels have three weeks to assemble at
two camps in southern Sudan while negotiations continue to end
their two-decade insurrection.

Both sides have committed to cease hostilities and a
Ugandan military intelligence chief was due to announce safe
passage routes for the rebels on the radio in the evening.

Fighters are not expected to begin leaving their bush
hideouts immediately.

"We are now entering a period of silence. We don't expect
to hear any shooting in these areas," Deputy Defense Minister
Ruth Nankabirwa told reporters in Kampala.

Nearly two million people have been uprooted in northern
Uganda by fighting between troops and the LRA, which won
notoriety for massacring civilians, mutilating survivors and
forcing thousands of abducted children to serve in its ranks.

The military said President Yoweri Museveni had ordered
troops to halt all search and destroy missions and to shoot at
the LRA only in defense of civilians or themselves.

"We are in the process of pulling back to physical
protection of displaced civilians," army spokesman Major Felix
Kulayigye told Reuters. "Where there are no camps, we are
returning to barracks. It seems to be the end of the war."


The LRA's top leaders, including Joseph Kony and his deputy
Vincent Otti, are wanted for war crimes by the International
Criminal Court (ICC), and have stayed hidden in Congo.

LRA officials have insisted both men will move to the Sudan
camps within the three-week deadline.

The truce was given a boost on Sunday when Otti called a
local radio station in northern Uganda and told fighters in the
area to gather and await further instructions.

Experts say the rebels have their backs to the wall, cut
off from years of support from Sudan's government in Khartoum,
which had used them against its own rebels, and ringed by
states legally obliged to arrest them for the ICC.

"Time is not on their side," Museveni told reporters late
on Monday. "If they don't show up, it will be worse for them.
They have nowhere to hide."

ICC prosecutors said on Monday they still hoped for the
arrest of Kony and his henchmen, despite an offer of amnesty by
Uganda under the terms of the truce.

With no police force to hunt down its targets, the ICC must
rely on Ugandan, Sudanese and former southern Sudanese rebels
to bring Kony and his deputies to justice.

Experts say if Kony and Otti leave Congo for the camps, it
would be the biggest boost so far for negotiations, meaning the
LRA was ready to sign a comprehensive peace agreement.

If the talks collapse, Saturday's deal lets the rebels
leave the assembly areas. Diplomats say that is unlikely to
happen, especially if men wanted by The Hague are present.

"If Kony and Otti come, I think they will be the last ones
to leave the bush, and that will be a very positive sign of
their intentions," said a Ugandan military source.

(Additional reporting by Justin Dralaze in Kampala)