Ugandan Rebel Emerges To Talk With U.N. Official
Monday, November 13, 2006
RI-KWANGBA, Sudan, Nov. 12 -- The top U.N. humanitarian official met Sunday with a Ugandan rebel leader accused of war crimes, but he failed to secure the immediate release of women and children held captive by the insurgent group.
The United Nations' Jan Egeland waited for two hours at a clearing in southern Sudan before Joseph Kony, the messianic leader of the Lord's Resistance Army, emerged from the bush with 30 bodyguards, bayonets fixed to their assault rifles.
Kony and Egeland shook hands before speaking for 10 minutes in a green tent erected by the United Nations. Egeland was seeking the release of women and children enslaved by the group during its 20-year conflict with the Ugandan government.
But Kony denied that his forces were holding prisoners.
"We don't have any children," he said in a brief news conference in the clearing just across Sudan's border with Congo. "We only have combatants."
Egeland is the first high-ranking U.N. official to meet Kony, who has declared himself a Christian prophet fighting to rule Uganda and its 26 million people by the Ten Commandments.
Kony has appeared in public only a handful of times, fearing arrest and extradition to The Hague to answer war crimes charges from the International Criminal Court, which has also issued arrest warrants for his top deputies. The rebels have been accused of murder, mutilations and kidnapping children for use as soldiers and sex slaves.
Almost 2 million people have been displaced by the conflict, aid organizations say.
After the talks, Egeland described the meeting as a success, saying the rebels had agreed to give an assessment of how many women and children were in their camps.
Egeland traveled by helicopter to Ri-Kwangba, a neutral zone just north of the Congolese border where the rebels are to gather under the terms of a peace deal with the Ugandan government. About 100 Lord's Resistance Army fighters loitered on the outer edge of the clearing.
"I am a humanitarian worker; I help people by relating to people who can unlock situations," Egeland said late Saturday.
Egeland said he was unwilling to discuss the arrest warrants, which the rebels say threaten the fragile peace deal signed with the government in southern Sudan's regional capital, Juba.
The rebels want the warrants dropped before they sign a comprehensive peace deal; the Ugandan government says it will ask for them to be lifted only after a full agreement is reached.
Uganda's government welcomed Egeland's meeting with Kony.
"If he can secure the release of women and children through his meeting, then that would be a very positive boost for the Juba talks," said Ruhakana Rugunda, head of the government negotiating team and Uganda's minister of internal affairs.
The Lord's Resistance Army is made up of the remnants of a rebellion that began after Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni took power in 1986. It has set up rear bases in Sudan and Congo and has been accused of attacking civilians and threatening stability in those countries.