- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 20, 2008

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Government and rebel negotiators signed a major agreement yesterday on how the country will deal with crimes committed during a brutal 20-year insurgency in the north, mediators said.

The agreement outlines how Uganda should handle charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes committed during an insurgency the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has led since 1987.

The deal represents a major development in the difficult peace talks.

“The signing of today’s agreement is a sign that the peace talks are progressing toward the final stages,” said David Matsanga, leader of the rebels’ negotiation team.

Under the deal, those charged with severe crimes would be tried in the High Court, and those accused of lesser crimes would be tried through northern Uganda’s traditional justice system, known as Mato Put, according to Chris Magezi, a spokesman for government negotiators.

The peace talks, mediated by southern Sudanese leaders, began in July 2006.

The conflict has been one of Africa’s longest-running, sparked by a 1986 rebellion in the north when President Yoweri Museveni, a southerner, took power.

Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony and four other top LRA leaders have been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague on atrocities charges including rape, mutilation and murder. But court officials have no power to arrest, and Mr. Museveni’s government has promised not to turn over the LRA suspects if they sign a peace deal.

Mr. Magezi also said that the negotiators agreed Uganda would continue to try to persuade the ICC to drop indictments against Mr. Kony so he can be tried in Uganda after signing a comprehensive peace agreement.

LRA fighters are notorious for cutting off the tongues and lips of civilians and abducting thousands of children, forcing the girls into polygamous marriages with rebel commanders and the boys into fighters.

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