- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 30, 2006

GULU, Uganda — Hundreds of women and children held captive by the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) may soon get their freedom under a peace agreement that gives rebels safe passage to camps in southern Sudan.

Martin Ojul, who heads the LRA team in peace talks to end a 19-year insurgency, yesterday told reporters in Juba, southern Sudan’s capital, that arrangements were under way to free women and children in captivity.

“Children and women cannot be part of the combatants as they move in these places. We are working with the U.N. and the government of southern Sudan to arrange for a separate camp for them in south Sudan,” Ugandan newspapers quoted Mr. Ojul as saying.

Maj. Felix Kulayigye, spokesman for the Ugandan army, said he was skeptical of the report.

“It is our wish that these children be released, but no one has informed us yet. Let’s hope for the best,” he said.

Under a truce signed Saturday, LRA rebels have been granted safe passage to two designated points in Sudan, where they will be monitored by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, the military wing of the autonomous government of southern Sudan.

The LRA has kidnapped and enslaved thousands of children over the years, forcing them to participate in ritual killings as a rite of initiation and killing those who refuse. Both boys and girls who survive become LRA soldiers, and the girls are assigned to senior LRA commanders as “wives.”

The conflict has driven nearly 2 million Ugandans from their homes.

LRA captives who escape or are freed by the Uganda army are normally sent to one of two rehabilitation centers in Gulu, one run by the Christian charity World Vision and another by a local charity called Gusco.

The children, many of whom have grown into teenagers during their years of captivity, spend a minimum of three weeks at the centers before being reunited with their families.

Maj. Kulayigye said Ugandan soldiers “have returned to the barracks in northern Uganda to respect the truce signed.”

“But we want the world to know that the security of our people is still our responsibility and priority and [we] will not sit and watch if the rebels begin to terrorize their lives again. We will continue monitoring their safety,” he said.

In October 2005, the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague issued arrest warrants for LRA leader Joseph Kony and his four top commanders.

They are accused by the court of having “established a pattern of brutalization of civilians by acts of murder, abduction, sexual enslavement, mutilation, as well as mass burning of houses and looting of camp settlements.”

Negotiations between the LRA and Ugandan government on a permanent peace deal are to resume today in Juba.

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