US offers ICC praise for Uganda rebel charges

By Time of article published Nov 16, 2006

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Kampala - As halting negotiations between Kampala and the notorious Lord's Resistance Army rebels continue in southern Sudan, Washington said ICC war crimes charges lodged against top LRA leaders were the main impetus for the talks.

"The ICC is not a hurdle to the talks, instead it is the reason why we have peace talks today," US ambassador to Uganda Steven Browning told reporters.

"All earlier efforts failed," he said. "What is new that this current process is somehow succeeding? The ICC is the new thing in the process."

"The US is very pleased to see the talks getting underway and the engagement of the rebels and government in order to end the fighting," Browning said.

The United States is perhaps the ICC's leading opponent, refusing to become a party to its founding treaty because it fears the court will be used for politically motivated prosecutions against US citizens and leaders.

The Hague-based court, the world's first permanent war crimes tribunal, last year filed war crimes charges against elusive LRA supremo Joseph Kony and four top lieutenants, accusing them of horrific atrocities during the 19-year war.

The five are the subject of international arrest warrants and, if apprehended, face trial for massacres, rapes, mutilations and mass abductions of civilians in northern Uganda.

They deny the charges and blame atrocities in the region on the Ugandan military despite witness accounts of rebel brutality during the war that has claimed tens of thousands of lives and displaced nearly two million people.

Uganda has offered the rebels total amnesty if they agree to stop their insurgency but the ICC charges have become a major sticking point in the peace talks.

Kony and the others charged are refusing to attend the negotiations, fearing arrest, and say they will not sign an agreement until the charges are dropped.

The government, meanwhile, says it will not ask the ICC to quash the charges until the LRA sign and implement a peace agreement and go through traditional reconciliation procedures.

Browning's comments were some of the first from a US official on the peace talks being held in the southern Sudanese capital of Juba and relief agencies and aid groups have complained about Washington's silence on the matter.

Browning said the United States would get involved in the process but only after the negotiations produce a peace deal for the war-ravaged north where Washington will then provide reconstruction assistance.

Despite their sluggish pace, the Juba talks are widely seen as the best change to the the war, which is regularly described as one of the world's worst, and most-forgotten, humanitarian crises.

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