The International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued arrest warrants for five senior members of the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), including the group's leader, Joseph Kony, Ugandan defence minister Amama Mbabazi said on Friday.
"The [ICC] investigation is complete and the court has taken a decision," Mbabazi told reporters in the Ugandan capital, Kampala.
"The following people have been indicted: Joseph Kony, Vincent Otti [LRA deputy commander-in-chief], Raska Lukwiya, Okot Odhiambo and Dominic Ongwen," he added. "The warrants were served on Uganda for the government to execute the arrest order."
The ICC has, since 2004, been investigating war crimes committed in the 19-year-old conflict between the LRA and the government in northern Uganda. The probe pertains to crimes committed since July 2002, when the court came into force. It specifically targets those who bear the greatest responsibility for crimes committed in the war.
"We have decided to co-operate with the court and we call upon the public to co-operate in the arrest of any of these named individuals," Mbabazi said, and added that the warrants had been passed on to Uganda's Director of Public Prosecutions in accordance with procedure.
The ICC does not have its own military or police force, nor does it have access to witnesses or criminals in the same way that governments do. It therefore relies on the support provided by the government and the international community at large for assistance with its procedures.
Mbabazi said one of those indicted, Dominic Ongwen, had been killed by Ugandan troops on 30 September during an LRA incursion into the eastern sub-region of Teso.
Otti - Kony's deputy - was still in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), some 90 km from Aba, in the country's northeast, he added. He is leading a group of LRA rebels who recently moved to northeastern DRC from their base in southern Sudan.
Mbabazi told reporters the governments of the DRC and Sudan had been served separately with arrest warrants for the five men. While the DRC is a signatory to the ICC's governing Rome Statute, Sudan is not.
The ICC's decision drew criticism from some leaders in northern Uganda, who have long maintained that the Court's involvement in the conflict was hampering ongoing peace efforts led by former Ugandan minister Betty Bigombe.
"This is like a blow to the peace process. The process of confidence-building has been moving well, but now the LRA will look at whoever gets in contact with them as an agent of the ICC," Archbishop Odama of northern Uganda’s Gulu Catholic Archdiocese, told IRIN on Friday.
"We thought the peace process would yield fruits if it were given more time, but it seems there is no patience," he added.
However, Mbabazi said the government remained committed to the peace process and the amnesty given by the government to any rebel who denounces the rebellion. However, he added, those who had been indicted by the ICC would "not be treated the same as before the indictment".
"The government will treat the others [rebels who have not been indicted] as people we can hold talks with and who can benefit from the amnesty," he said. "We shall continue to encourage Bigombe in her efforts to talk peace with the LRA."
Mbabazi said if Kony returned to Uganda from southern Sudan - where he is believed to be based - the Ugandan military would attempt to arrest him on home soil. However, if the Ugandan government got permission from Sudan, they would pursue Kony across the border.
He noted that the Ugandan Army Commander, Lt-Gen Aronda Nyakairima, was currently in Sudan requesting permission for Ugandan troops to cross the "red line" beyond which it is not permitted pursue the rebels.
The LRA has waged a 19-year war against the government of President Yoweri Museveni and aid workers estimate that the rebels have abducted more than 20,000 children to serve as fighters, porters and sex slaves.
The group is notoriously brutal, routinely mutilating and torturing civilians in the region. The conflict has driven approximately 1.6 million people from their homes to live in internally displaced persons' camps.
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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions