Nabanga, Sudan-Congo border – The leader of Uganda’s notorious Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), Joseph Kony, used his first news conference in 20 years of rebellion on Tuesday to call for a ceasefire with the government.
“We wish to categorically state that no meaningful negotiations can take place without a cessation of hostilities,” Kony said in a statement read out by a rebel spokesperson who sat next to him before Kony took questions himself.
Asked what he would do if the government did not accept his call for a truce, Kony said: “I will not do anything, but I will try also to talk so that we cease the fire.”
The elusive rebel commander is wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court with four of his deputies, but asked if he would ever stand trial in The Hague, he said: “No, no, no… because I did not do anything.”
The cult-like movement is accused of killing civilians and mutilating its victims in a war against the Ugandan government that has uprooted nearly two million people and killed tens of thousands, as well as destabilising southern Sudan.
Kony, who spoke in halting English, earlier met South Sudan’s Vice President Riek Machar on the Sudan-Congo border for talks aimed at ending one of Africa’s longest wars.
Kony denied the LRA was responsible for atrocities in northern Uganda and southern Sudan, saying that they were committed by the Ugandan army.
“(It is) only that I don’t have means or I don’t have good communication to the world which can inform the people that these things which happened, was not LRA,” he said.
“I am a man, I am a human being, I am a soldier, I am Joseph Kony,” he said, dressed in a white short-sleeved shirt and white trousers. “Those words people say to me, that is propaganda because they spoil my name like that so that people do not love me as a human being.”
He also denied abducting children, despite the presence of several young men who looked to be in their early teens, among at least 80 LRA fighters who guarded the clearing where the meeting took place.
“I cannot fight with children,” Kony said. “As you know very well the children cannot walk 60 miles as I do.”
He said he began his uprising 20 years ago, aged 23, because troops loyal to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who had just taken power at the time, were oppressing his people in northern Uganda.
“Museveni came to our place or to my home and killed my fathers and killed my sisters, destroying all properties of my fathers and some other people also,” Kony said.
“That is why most of our people, they also went into the bush,” he said, referring to several other rebellions that emerged in northern Uganda after Museveni took power but collapsed within a couple of years.
Mediators regard his appearance in a clearing near the forested frontier as a step forward for the talks, which began in south Sudan’s capital Juba on July 14.
One mediator said Kony apologised and asked for forgiveness from a group of about 50 elders from southern Sudan who confronted him with a list of atrocities they said were committed by his rebels in the past few years.
The Sudanese elders say the LRA has killed more than 3 000 people in the south, abducted hundreds and indulged in incidents of cannibalism, cooking dozens of people in pots.
Machar said talks were due to resume in Juba on Monday, and that it was likely that one of the five indicted by the ICC would attend. “Ask me tomorrow, there is a likelihood,” he said, responding to a question from Reuters.