12.03.08 - ICC/UGANDA - UGANDA'S REBELS MEET ICC REGISTRY, BUT PROSECUTOR SNUBS THEM

The Hague, 12 March 2008 (FH) - A delegation of Uganda's Lord Resistance Army (LRA) met Monday with representatives of the registry of the International Criminal Court (ICC), but the Prosecutor, Luis Moreno Campo, refused to meet them.
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Led by David Matsanga,  head of the rebels' delegation for peace negotiations which are currently going on with the Uganda government, came to The Hague to discuss  arrest warrant issued by the prosecutor in July 2005 against their leader, Joseph Kony, and four other officials for crimes committed in northern Uganda.

At war against the regime of Yoweri Museveni since 1986, the rebels are estimated to have killed about 100,000 people, according to the United Nations.

The fighting has forced 1.6 million people to flee their homes, kidnapped and forcibly enrolled in their army nearly 25, 000 children.

But since July 2006, nearly a year after the issuance of the arrest warrants by the ICC, peace talks have been in progress.

At the end of February, several intermediate agreements were signed, including one on the creation of a special war crimes chamber within the Ugandan High Court and creation of a system of transitional justice.

Since the beginning of the negotiations, the rebels have placed a condition on the signature of a final peace accord, the withdrawal of the warrants issued by ICC after President Museveni referred the case to the
prosecutor in December 2004.

The prosecutor, Ocampo, opposes any withdrawal of the warrants.

After meeting with officials from the registry, Matsanga said that he was "very satisfied" and announced the filing, in the next days, of a motion of "admissibility in the case" before the pre-trial chamber.

In addition, the representative of the LRA mentioned a recent decision of the judges asking the Ugandan government to provide, by 28 March, details on the agreement on the creation of a special chamber and on the execution of the arrest warrants.

The court only has jurisdiction when the states do not have the will or the ability to prosecute persons responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. By trying the persons responsible for crimes
committed on its territory, Uganda could thus put a term to the procedure initiated by The Hague.

Matsanga seems decided to use the decision of the judges in the last stage of the peace negotiations.

"Why did the government refer this case to the court? Why did the Ugandan government start negotiations as it is supposed to arrest these people? Why did they sign agreements with us, contrary to the Rome Statute? ", he wondered. For the head of the Ugandan delegation, "one cannot sign an agreement with somebody and then handcuff them ". According to him, the intermediate agreements must lead to the charges being dropped.

Throughout the negotiations, the International Criminal Court has, for its part, been accused of harming the negotiations in progress.

But a decision to withdraw the warrants would harm the credibility of the court, considered observers.

Opinions are, on the other hand, divided on the use of article 16 by the Security Council, which would make it possible for it to suspend the procedures for a year.

According to  sources, at the end of February, nearly 200 rebels would have fled to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where they had a rear base, and to the Central African Republic; two countries that have ratified the statute of the court and who are held to cooperate with it.

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© Hirondelle News Agency