Rebel Leader Seeks Truce to Escape War Crimes Indictments

By Stephen Mbogo | July 7, 2008 | 8:17pm EDT

Nairobi, Kenya ( - Ugandan rebel leader Joseph Kony, famed for amputating the arms of his abductees, cannibalizing them, and kidnapping children, has appeared in public for the first time in a decade, saying he is ready for a peaceful end to the war.

But the International Criminal Court (ICC), which has indicted Kony for crimes against humanity, said the rebel leader must be arrested and charged even if he ends his incursion against civilians.

Kony's rebel group, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), operates from southern Sudan, where the Khartoum regime has granted it safe haven.

But since South Sudan became an autonomous government after a peace deal with Khartoum last year, that support has ended, a development that may have prompted Kony's peace overture.

"Most people do not know me. I am not a terrorist," said the man who faces 33 counts of crimes against humanity ranging from rape, murder, slavery and the use of child-soldiers.

"I am a human being. I want peace in northern Uganda," Kony told South Sudan Vice President Riek Machar when they met at undisclosed location.

The video recording showed Kony sitting in a circle with his generals, South Sudan government officials and two white men.

Kony, a former altar boy, has waged war against the government of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni since 1987. His aim is to establish a theocratic government there based on the Bible's Ten Commandments.

The war has displaced more than 2 million people. He has so far abducted some 20,000 children, some of whom he uses as wives and soldiers.

Ex-abductees rescued by the Ugandan army have consistently told reporters how they were forced to brutally kill and maim friends and neighbors as well as participate in grotesque rites such as drinking their victims' blood.

President Museveni reacted to Kony's peace offer by giving him until August 1 to renounce the rebellion. He said he would guarantee his safety if he did so, despite the ICC indictments.

"If he got serious about a peaceful settlement, the government of Uganda would guarantee him safety," said a statement from the president's office.

South Sudan deputy leader Machar also gave Kony a similar assurance, saying their joint talks were not aimed at assisting the ICC in arresting him.

But the ICC was quick to react to safety assurances for Kony. A statement from its communication office "reminded" governments of Sudan, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo (the latter where Kony is allegedly holed up), that they have an obligation to arrest him.

/tx4500 "[These governments] are obligated to give effect to the [ICC's] arrest warrants and we're confident they will honor their joint commitment to do so," said ICC's Sandra Khadouri.

Ugandan Army spokesman Major Felix Kulayigye said the army will continue to hunt the rebel leader because his past promises for a ceasefire were false.

"We hope this time he means it, but there is no ceasefire, and we will continue to hunt him while we wait to see if he does what the president has asked of him," Kulayigye told reporters.

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