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Friday, May 14, 1999 Published at 22:01 GMT 23:01 UK

World: Africa

Uganda offers amnesty to rebels

The Ugandan president said he might offer Mr Kony a government post

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has offered rebel leader Joseph Kony and his Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) an amnesty to end their 13-year rebellion in the north of the country. The state-owned New Vision newspaper quoted Mr Museveni as saying: "I was angry with Kony as he killed many people, but now I have been persuaded and I have agreed to give him and his fighters amnesty.

"Tell Joseph Kony to come back home and stop disturbing people. Tell him that you people have the power to decide the future and who is to lead you through elections," he said.

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The Ugandan leader said he might offer Mr Kony a government post if he stood for parliament and was elected.

Mr Museveni gave no details of how or when the rebels could take up the amnesty offer or whether they would have to surrender weapons.

A presidential adviser told the BBC that Mr Museveni's decision followed what she called feelers put out, through church leaders, to Mr Kony's colleagues.

However there has so far been no response to the offer from Mr Kony.

'Softer approach'

Nobert Mao, an opposition politician from the northern Gulu district where much of the fighting has gone on, said the Ugandan president should lend his support to local peace initiatives and agree to negotiate with LRA leaders.

"The president has changed considerably from his hardline thinking to a much softer approach, but he needs to go one step further and announce his willingness to participate in the peace process.

"This will mean more to the Acholi people than his offer of a ministerial position," Mr Mao said. Mr Kony is a member of the Acholi tribe and draws support from some of its members.

Children 'abducted'

Many LRA members are former soldiers and others from northern Uganda who feel marginalised by Mr Museveni's government, which he formed after taking power in an armed rebellion in 1986.

His government had backed an amnesty proposal which is being prepared for parliamentary approval, but that amnesty was to have excluded rebel leaders such as Mr Kony and instead focused on ordinary fighters.

Correspondents say thousands of children have been kidnapped by the Sudan-backed LRA during the course of the rebellion. Many more are said to have been displaced by rebel attacks on their homes.

Human rights organisation Amnesty International earlier this year accused the LRA of systematically abducting and recruiting up to 8,000 children, mostly between the ages of 13 and 16.

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