New amnesty law to exclude top LRA leaders

The Ugandan government has announced plans to amend its four-year-old amnesty law to exclude the top leadership of the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). The current law expires on 17 January.

The Amnesty Act, which became law in January 2000, currently offers a blanket immunity and resettlement packages to all rebels who surrender their arms.

Shaban Bantariza, Uganda army spokesman told IRIN on Tuesday the law - which is renewed every six months - would this time be amended in parliament to exclude LRA leader Joseph Kony and his senior commanders.

While hundreds of junior members of the rebel group had taken advantage of the amnesty and surrendered, he said, the LRA top leadership, had ignored calls for peace talks and instead "continued to supervise the killing of innocent civilians".

"How can they be interested in the amnesty if they are not interested in peace talks?" Bantariza asked. "The amnesty has been renewed many times. They don't want it. We are forcing it on them. So what is the point?"

However, the members of the Acholi Religious Leaders' Peace Initiative (ARLPI) who are opposed to a military solution to the conflict, have expressed concern over the move.

In a statement, they urged the Ugandan government to extend the amnesty for the rebels "without any restrictions or limitations", as part of efforts to help build trust between the parties.

"As religious leaders we don't use guns," the statement said. "This is why we ask our government to extend the amnesty, because it takes time for people to trust one another and talk. The solution to the northern conflict is dialogue."

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