- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The government of Uganda will reiterate its offer of a “soft landing” for members of the Lord’s Resistance Army at a meeting with leaders of the rebel movement in Kampala tomorrow, President Yoweri Museveni said yesterday in Washington.

“They said they wanted to come and we welcome them,” Mr. Museveni told The Washington Times after reports that top members of the group — which is known for kidnapping children and turning them into vicious warriors — would attend talks in the Ugandan capital for the first time in two decades.

“They are coming to test the waters. It is up to those terrorists to come in. We fought them and their sponsors in Sudan. … We took the decision to give them a soft landing, provided that they give up their terrorism,” he said after meetings with President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Wire service reports from Uganda said that senior Lord’s Resistance Army rebels had arrived in Entebbe and were en route to Kampala for the talks.

LRA spokesman Godfrey Ayoo told reporters in Nairobi, Kenya, before leaving for Uganda that the movement was carrying a “message of peace” to the Ugandan people.

“We have not been in Uganda for 21 years and we are inviting them to join us as we chart the way forward for peace,” he was quoted as saying.

The LRA, led by Joseph Kony, has been waging a guerrilla war against the Ugandan army since 1986, leaving more than 100,000 dead and 1.7 million displaced. At least 75,000 Ugandan children have been kidnapped and forced to fight on the side of the LRA, in some cases forced to kill their own parents or brothers and sisters.

The International Criminal Court in The Hague has indicted Kony and wants to try him for crimes against humanity. Some fear that the ICC charges will keep Kony and his rebels from laying down their arms.

But Mr. Museveni said the ICC action had helped his government “first of all because it says there should be no impunity — they should not be immune to censure. The ICC does not block alternative solutions, [like] traditional settlements, with the tribes. The ICC is pressure on the terrorists,” he said.

During his meetings in Washington, Mr. Museveni said, he discussed Uganda’s health crises, specifically HIV/AIDS and malaria, and that Mr. Bush pledged “to study” the situation.

He said that Uganda is spraying insecticides and delivering treated bed nets to those at risk for malaria. Asked whether Uganda was using DDT in the fight against malaria, Mr. Museveni was adamant.

“No one can have a problem with indoor spraying. It goes on the walls, not on crops,” he said.

He thanked the United States for opening its market to about 6,500 Ugandan products through the African Growth and Opportunity Act, saying that with American help, Uganda would build better roads and infrastructure and make those products even less expensive.

He discussed his plan to revolutionize banking as a way of energizing the poor and helping the economy. In partnership with Map International, a New York-based firm, Uganda is in the process of using the cell-phone system — which covers 85 percent of Uganda — to make safe banking available to every Ugandan.

“Uganda is covered by telephones and roads. We have the electronic and physical [infrastructure],” he said.

“There is a pool of savings in every house and under mattresses. If you have a lot of money coming into the system, interest rates will go down and more money will be available for loans.”

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