NAIROBI (AFP) — The International Criminal Court ruled out Thursday canceling arrest warrants for Ugandan rebel commanders, saying the rebel leaders and not the warrants are the obstacle to peace.
"It is time to marginalise, isolate and arrest individuals sought by the court. The international community must give them no support," ICC Deputy Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in a statement.
"People such as Joseph Kony or Ahmed Haroun committed unspeakable atrocities; they are a stumbling block to lasting peace and security," she added.
In 2005, the Hague-based ICC indicted five Ugandan rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) commanders, including its chief Joseph Kony and his deputy Vincent Otti, on a raft of charges such as murder, rape and enslavement of children. One of the indicted commanders has since died.
The world's first war crimes tribunal has also charged Haroun, Sudan's secretary of state for humanitarian affairs, over atrocities in the country's western region of Darfur.
Although the LRA is engaged in peace talks with the government, Kony has vowed never to sign a final peace accord unless the warrants are withdrawn.
Northern Ugandan elders and some government officials have called on the ICC to support traditional forms of justice in a bid to speed up peace and reconciliation.
But Bensouda said the warrants are here to stay, since "peace and justice can work together."
"ICC is not an impediment to peace ... I think the warrants that have been issued by the ICC have contributed tremendously to making the perpetrators of these crimes come to, even negotiate with the government," she told the BBC.
"This idea of 'because we are talking peace therefore justice should be thrown out of the window' is not the correct position that has to be taken," she added.
The ICC position came as a LRA rebel team is currently visiting war-torn Uganda regions to collect public views on issues of accountability and reconciliation in the peace talks, which are key to ending the conflict.
The team has pleaded for forgiveness for their part in the conflict.
An armistice signed in August last year has halted active fighting and the ongoing talks in the southern Sudan capital Juba are seen as the best chance to end the conflict that has raged in northern Uganda since 1988.
Meanwhile, Uganda's state-run New Vision newspaper Thursday reported that Otti had been killed, deepening confusion that has raged over the fate of the rebel deputy chief in the recent weeks.
The LRA has flatly rejected the claims, but the ICC said it was investigating.
The conflict has left tens of thousands of people dead as well as 1.8 million displaced, out of a total population of 2.7 million in northern Uganda, where the militia had engaged in enslaving, torturing, raping, and murdering civilians.
The LRA, which initially claimed they were fighting for the establishment of a government based on Biblical theology, has now accepted to sit down with the government and address economic and political marginalisation.
The two sides have yet to fix a date of resuming the fitful talks.
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