KAMPALA — Uganda poured scorn yesterday on claims by a fugitive rebel leader that he was innocent of war crimes, but said it would still send ministers to investigate the possibility of peace talks with his cult-like guerrillas.
In a rare interview on Wednesday, Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) leader Joseph Kony denied he was a terrorist, called himself a freedom fighter and said he was innocent of charges facing him at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Holland.
Kony’s rebels are accused of massacring civilians, mutilating survivors and abducting thousands of recruits.
“How can he claim he is not a killer when we have rescued thousands of children from him over the years?” said Ugandan army spokesman Maj Felix Kulayigye.
Kony met south Sudanese officials in May and this month — his first known meeting with mediators in years.
South Sudan’s regional government says it wants to broker an end to his 19-year war with Uganda’s government, which has uprooted almost 2-million people in northern Uganda, killed thousands and destabilised southern Sudan.
Kampala has reacted cautiously to Kony’s call for peace talks, and fresh clashes have broken out in recent days.
But late on Wednesday the government said it would send officials to consult south Sudan’s President Salva Kiir before deciding whether to meet LRA representatives waiting in Juba.
Government spokes-man Robert Kabushenga said Internal Affairs Minister Ruhakana Rugunda and Henry Oryem Okello, a junior foreign minister, would visit south Sudan’s capital at the end of this week or early next.
“Once they have met Kiir, they will advise Kampala on whether to expand the mission into a delegation to meet the LRA,” Kabushenga said.
Uganda’s military doubts the rebels’ motives, accusing them of using previous talks to rearm and abduct recruits. It said it killed eight LRA fighters in the north last week, and a south Sudanese governor said four more were killed there.
Before then, northern Uganda had been quiet in recent weeks.
Museveni is being urged by supporters of the World Court not to negotiate with any of the wanted men but he has given Kony until July 31 to surrender and receive amnesty. He has also urged the United Nations (UN) to use its peacekeepers in Democratic Republic of Congo to disarm the LRA, who crossed into the country from Sudan last year. LRA fighters killed eight Guatemalan UN troops there in January.
In his interview broadcast on BBC television, Kony said: “I’m a freedom fighter who is fighting for freedom in Uganda.”