Uganda LRA rebels ask for forgiveness

A representative for the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army rebels has asked war victims in the north to forgive them.

“The LRA made plenty of mistakes and I ask for forgiveness for what happened to our people,” visiting LRA spokesman Martin Ojul told a local radio station.

The archbishop of Gulu, the northern town where the LRA delegation is holding talks, told the BBC forgiveness is key to solving the two-decade war.

He said he does not see a role for the International Criminal Court (ICC).

During their tour of the north, the LRA delegation wants to persuade the region that their top commanders, four of whom were indicted by the ICC for war crimes two years ago, should face traditional forms of justice instead.

An estimated 1.5m people still remain in displacement camps in the north and thousands were killed during the fighting.

The LRA built a reputation for mutilating their victims and kidnapping thousands of children to serve as fighters, porters and sex slaves.

The BBC’s Sarah Grainger in the northern town of Gulu says people there bore the brunt of the atrocities and the delegation, which represents the rebel movement at the peace talks taking place in southern Sudan, will spend their time speaking to people in camps.

“We are here for reconciliation and we want to come back and live with the people peacefully and in harmony,” Mr Ojul told Mega FM radio station in Gulu.

The LRA consultation process with the general public, led by Mr Ojul, is expected to last for six weeks and will cover the whole of northern Uganda.

Mr Ojul and three other delegation members underwent an Acholi traditional cleansing ceremony on Wednesday to welcome them home, Mega FM reports.

“Forgiveness is healing and it has a more lasting effect then revenge, the perpetuation of hatred, the perpetuation of war,” Archbishop of Gulu John Odama told the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme.

He is one of the people who has campaigned actively for forgiveness and reconciliation and he argues that with local and national levels of accountability “we don’t see a role for the ICC”.

Ugandan journalist John Kakenda says many people from the Acholi tribe, who were main victims of the atrocities, feel the same.

“There many people who believe Joseph Kony and his top commanders should be tried but now they feel that this may not encourage them to come out from hiding,” Mr Kakenda, an editor with the government-owned New Vision newspaper, told the BBC’s Network Africa programme.

On Saturday, the LRA delegation met President Yoweri Museveni as part of their peace tour. LRA leader Joseph Kony remains at a rebel camp across the border in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

He has refused to take part in long-running Sudan talks unless the ICC warrants are dropped.

In recent years, with dwindling support from Sudan, the LRA fighters have been on the run.

The BBC’s Africa analyst Martin Plaut says finding sanctuary in remote areas of DR Congo and funding their operations from diamond mines, the rebel movement is a shadow of its former self.

But ending their rebellion is still vital if peace is to come to northern Uganda, he says.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday November 8, 2007.
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