Wants Death Camps Gone

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Charles Taylor is now before the court in the Hague. If a powerful government like Nigeria’s could not provide safety for Charles Taylor, what about a young government in Southern Sudan and my safety? Why is Machar not insisting that the leaders of Uganda also attend? Uganda is being represented by a delegation just like the LRA.

(LRA’s Vincent Otti, right, fears Taylor-style abduction by the ICC.)

Now that the Lord’s Resistance Army has unilaterally called for a cessation of hostilities, the rebels want to know what excuse the Uganda government has to continue detaining civilians in the northern death camps, says the LRA’s number two commander.

“We are not the ones who sent people into the camps,� Vincent Otti, the deputy commander who declared the unilateral ceasefire on orders from Joseph Kony, the LRA chief, told The Black Star in a recent interview. The Uganda government created the camps, ostensibly to protect civilians from LRA attacks, rapes and abductions of children to use as child soldiers and sex partners in the 20 year war. International agencies including the United Nations charge that at least 1,000 people die every week in these camps from malnourishment and diseases, while others are killed or sexually abused by the government soldiers.

The LRA –and many people in northern Uganda— contend the camps were set by the government in a now failed attempt at land grab for sale to foreign investors. The Uganda government and LRA are currently trying to hammer out a peace deal in Juba, capital of Southern Sudan. The talks seemed destined to collapse when the mediator, Southern Sudan Vice President Riek Machar insisted that Otti himself attend as part of the rebel team. Otti says Machar has since realized that his demands were “not the proper position� to take and after intervention by Salva Kirr, the South Sudan president, the LRA agreed to resume negotiations. Yet the rebels remain wary and recently Otti sent a letter to South African diplomats to be conveyed to Thabo Mbeki, asking for South Africa to act as mediators saying Machar wasn’t impartial.

Moreover, Otti insists there are legitimate concerns why the LRA’s leadership doesn’t feel safe about going to Juba. “The indictment by the ICC has not yet been lifted,� he said, referring to the International Criminal Court’s October 2005 indictment of the LRA’s top commanders, including Kony. “Look at Charles Taylor, former president of Liberia. President Obasanjo of Nigeria offered him asylum—what happened? Charles Taylor is now before the court in the Hague. If a powerful government like Nigeria’s could not provide safety for Charles Taylor, what about a young government in Southern Sudan and my safety? Why is Machar not insisting that the leaders of Uganda also attend? Uganda is being represented by a delegation just like the LRA.�

Otti said that “at the proper time� the LRA’s top leaders would attend the talks. “We want the entire world to know that we are serious about peace. That is why we declared a unilateral cessation of hostilities. We are still waiting for Uganda to do the same.� The Uganda government says a ceasefire agreement is one of the items of the Juba peace talks agenda.

Asked what he would tell the LRA’s long time adversary President Yoweri Museveni if he had a private audience with him, Otti said:  “I would say we are fighting for development and peace in northern Uganda. I am fighting for peace. What is most important I would tell him to remove the ICC indictment. And I would tell him the things that happened in northern Uganda, why is it only us who are being blamed? And what really happened in Luwero? And in Eastern Uganda? All this should be investigated openly by the ICC. I want the ICC to look into that.�

Otti said the ICC should also look into the 2004 massacre of more than 300 civilians in Lira, northern Uganda. He claims the LRA was not even near at the time of the killings. He said 150 victims were buried before their relatives could see the bodies. "Why?"

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