UN official meets Ugandan rebels in jungle

Published: Sunday, November 12, 2006, 21:25 [IST]
 

RIKWANGBA, Sudan, Nov 12 (Reuters) UN humanitarian chief Jan Egeland linked up with Ugandan Lord's Resistance Army rebels today in the jungle along the border between Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

On a mission to promote peace in southern Sudan and northern Uganda, Egeland flew by helicopter to the border settlement of Nbanga and then drove through thick tropical forest for a meeting with reclusive LRA commander Joseph Kony.

This month the Ugandan government and the rebels signed an extension of a truce, suspending a 20-year insurgency in which tens of thousands of people have been killed and nearly 2 million have been displaced in northern Uganda.

The International Criminal Court in The Hague has issued arrest warrants for Kony and other LRA leaders for crimes against humanity.

Human rights groups accuse the rebels of enslaving children and mutilating their victims.

After arrival in Rikwangba, one of two assembly points set up under the truce arrangements, Egeland had preliminary discussions with LRA deputy leader Vincent Otti.

Otti went out to make a phone call and then returned for intense consultations with Riek Machar, the vice president of southern Sudan and a key mediator with the LRA.

A few minutes Machar said aloud: ''OK, our guns 100 metres, your guns 100 metres, agreed.'' Armed men from the two sides -- the LRA and soldiers of the south Sudan's Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) -- then began to withdraw from around the UN tent where Egeland and Otti had met, apparently in readiness for the arrival of Kony.

If the meeting with Egeland goes ahead, it will be the first time Kony has met such a prominent international official.

About 100 LRA fighters had been visible at the jungle clearing, some in khaki, others in football shirts or Hawaiian shirts. Many wore rubber boots against the heavy mud which comes with the rains at this time of year.

The LRA manned a checkpoint on the road to the assembly point, with a wooden log balanced across two posts. The LRA fighters searched Egeland's convoy carefully.

''Be careful, madame, don't sent any satellite coordinates from here,'' one of the fighters said.

Egeland has been seeking humanitarian gestures from Kony but the officials could not say if he had obtained any in advance.

REUTERS AKJ RK1755


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