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War crimes prosecutor urges arrest of Uganda's rebel leaders

He fears they may reorganize, rearm

THE HAGUE -- Ugandan rebels may be using peace talks as a guise to secretly reorganize and rearm, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said yesterday, urging the arrest of their leaders. But the prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo , stopped short of challenging Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to break off peace efforts with the rebels or to retract his offer of amnesty if the talks succeed.

``We believe the best way to stop the conflict and restore security to the region is to arrest the top leaders," Moreno-Ocampo said, adding that it was the duty of the international community to carry out the arrests since the court has no enforcement arm of its own.

At the same time, ``we believe peace and justice can go together," he told reporters. The ICC issued warrants for Joseph Kony and four of his lieutenants last year for crimes against humanity, including the abduction and enslavement of thousands of children and forcing them to kill and mutilate civilians. Uganda is an important test case for the fledgeling court and its authority, since Kony was the target of its first arrest warrant.

The ICC was created in 2002 and has only one suspect in custody so far, former Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga , who goes on trial in September.

Kony is a cult-like figure who calls his group the ``Lord's Resistance Army," or LRA, and says he wants to establish the law of the Bible in Uganda. Kony appeared in public for the first time in a decade earlier this year in southern Sudan after Sudanese leaders offered to mediate negotiations with Ugandan President Museveni. He denied committing war crimes.

Moreno-Ocampo said the pressure of the ICC arrest warrants was partially responsible for the peace efforts, but indicated his distrust of Kony's intentions. ``We are deeply concerned that the LRA could use this time to reorganize and rearm," he said. The prosecutor said his team had been investigating Kony's rebels for two years, and had gathered evidence of systematic crimes.

If the peace process succeeds, it would be up to the court's judges to decide whether to withdraw the arrest warrants, he said.

In the Ugandan capital, Kampala, the US Embassy said rebels who committed atrocities should be punished. ``The United States respects Uganda's decision on this matter, but we believe those who have committed atrocities in this long-standing insurgency should be held accountable for their deeds," the embassy said in a statement yesterday. Museveni has assured Kony his government will not renege on its promise of amnesty even under international pressure. He said the UN mission in Congo should have arrested him when he was there because it knew his location in the country's Garamba National Park.

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