Vincent Otti, the deputy leader of the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) and one of five leaders with outstanding warrants against them from the International Criminal Court, said on Tuesday his fighters would remain in the bush as long as the warrants were active.
Under the terms of a truce agreed last week between LRA fighters and the Ugandan government, the LRA has two weeks to gather at two assembly points in southern Sudan while peace talks continue in the region’s capital, Juba.
“No rebel will come out unless the ICC revokes the indictments,” Otti told Kampala’s KFM radio by satellite phone.
Cristian Palme, an ICC spokesman, said the world court had no comment on Otti’s remarks.
“This peace process remains at an early stage. Justice and peace have worked together so far and will continue to work together,” he said.
The ICC has said leaders of the LRA should face war crime charges and has urged the execution of its arrest warrants issued last year for numerous counts of atrocities allegedly committed during their brutal, two-decade war, one of Africa’s longest.
Last week, the deputy prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, said she still hoped the LRA leaders would be arrested.
The war in Uganda has lasted
However, with no police force to hunt down its targets, the ICC must rely on Ugandan, Sudanese and former southern Sudanese rebel troops to bring them to justice.
Yoweri Museveni, the Ugandan president, has offered the five indictees a blanket amnesty if they agree to a peace deal and hinted at a possible extension of a deadline he set for September 12 to reach an agreement if the talks are showing progress.
Otti and the LRA leader Joseph Kony have refused to attend the negotiations for fear of arrest, but have said they are committed to reaching a negotiated settlement.
One of the indictees, Raska Lukwiya, was killed last month by the Ugandan army before the truce went into force, but another, Dominic Ongwen, this week led a group of rebels out of the bush and met Ugandan military officers on their way to one of the camps.
But Otti said the arrival of LRA fighters at the camps – Ri-Kwangba near Sudan’s western border with the Democratic Republic of Congo and Owiny-Ki-Bul near Sudan’s southern border with Uganda – did not mean the war was over.
“The indictment should remain until Kony agrees to get out of his criminal activities”
Yoweri Museveni, Ugandan president
“Being in Ri-Kwangba does not mean I am out,” he said. “Ri-Kwangba is a place where there is LRA only, it is in the bush.”
On Saturday, Museveni renewed the amnesty offer but said he would not ask ICC prosecutors to drop the charges unless a comprehensive settlement is reached, suggesting they are an incentive to the peace talks.
“The indictment should remain until [LRA leader Joseph] Kony agrees to get out of his criminal activities,” he told reporters.
“Once Kony does that, we should dialogue with the ICC to inform them that we have an alternative solution to this problem and we would like them to leave these indictments.”