ICC to investigate Uganda rebels

The International Criminal Court (ICC) is planning its first-ever inquiry into the Lord's Resistance Army rebel group which has waged a 17-year insurgency in northern Uganda.

    Around one million people have been displaced in Uganda

    The move by the prosecutor to start planning an inquiry comes

    after Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni lodged a formal complaint

    against the rebels in December last year.

    The ICC

    said in a statement on Thursday that it

     has determined there is sufficient basis

    to start planning for the first investigation of the ICC into the

    activities of the group.

    The probe will be the first formal investigation opened by the

    ICC, the Hague-based tribunal that in July 2002 became the first

    permanent world court for war crimes, crimes against humanity and

    genocide.

    The LRA has been fighting Museveni's government since 1986,

    ostensibly in a bid to replace it with an administration that would

    enforce the biblical Ten Commandments.

    Child abductions

    Museveni has lodged a formal
    complaint with the ICC 

    But the rebel group is best known for its attacks against

    civilians and the abduction of 20,000 children, who are forced

    to fight in rebel ranks or to serve as concubines for LRA

    commanders.

    The war has killed and maimed thousands of people and displaced more than

     1.2 million others in northern Uganda. The conflict has been

    described by a UN official as the world's worst forgotten

    humanitarian crisis.

    Most of the LRA is made up of these child abductees, who over

    the years have grown into hardened fighters and now prevent recent

    recruits from leaving the ranks.

    The children undergo various initiation rites to dehumanise them

    and are sometimes forced to kill members of their own families under

    threat of being killed themselves.

    The court said reports indicate that human rights abuses include

    "summary executions, torture and mutilation, recruitment of child

    soldiers, child sexual abuse, rape, forcible displacement, and

    looting and destruction of civilian property".

    Mysterious leader 

    The LRA is led by the mysterious former altar boy and catechist

    Joseph Kony, described by close associates as a good-looking,

    unassuming man, fond of his multitude of wives and children and

    endowed with magical powers.

    THE LORD'S RESISTANCE ARMY  

    - Seeks to overthrow the Uganda's government

    - Wants to establish a government based on the Ten Commandments

    - Operates in the north from bases in southern Sudan

    - Accused of murder, torture, maimings, rape, abductions and enslavement

    According to the court, Museveni has expressed his intention to

    amend an amnesty for LRA members to exlude its leadership, "ensuring

    that those bearing the greatest responsibility" can be brought to

    justice.

    The ICC also urged states and international insitutions to

    cooperate with the Ugandan authorities to help locate and arrest the

    leadership of the LRA.

    The prosecutor at the ICC, Luis Moreno Ocampo, must now inform

    the states who have signed up to the court of his intention to start

    an investigation, a spokesman for the tribunal said.

    They have one

    month to make observations.

    Congo violence 

    A formal decision to open the inquiry against the LRA will be

    taken in the coming months, after which the prosecutor will be able

    to send a team of investigators on the spot.

    Museveni and the ICC prosecutor met on Thursday in London to

    work out future cooperation between the two sides, the court said.

    While the case against the LRA would be the ICC's first formal

    probe, the court is closely monitoring the situation in Ituri in

    northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where inter-ethnic

    violence has cost 50,000 lives since 1999.

    SOURCE: AFP


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