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Tuesday, 7 December, 1999, 21:28 GMT
Uganda offers amnesty to rebels
Ugandan President Museveni President Museveni has had a change of heart

The Ugandan Parliament has passed a bill offering amnesty to rebel fighters in an attempt to end insurgencies in the north and west of the country.

The legislation, which was moved by Internal Affairs Minister Edward Rugumayo, will initially be in force for six months, with a provision for extension.

The rebels have six months from the date at which President Yoweri Museveni signs the bill into law to claim the amnesty by giving themselves up and handing in weapons.

The new law completes a change of policy by the government, which had previously maintained that the two main rebel groups, and other smaller ones, could only be subdued militarily.

President Museveni had earlier said he was willing to grant amnesty only to the "misled"' and not their leaders.

Mr Rugumayo described the new law as "exciting, because for the first time the government has come out clearly and unequivocally to say that the amnesty will be granted to all those who have been waging war against the country."

Mr Rugumayo said the government would conduct a public information drive to make sure the rebels knew about the amnesty.

Two fronts

Northern rebels of the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) have been fighting Museveni's government since it came to power in 1986.

In the mountains of western Uganda, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) frequently launch attacks on civilian targets in an effort to undermine the government which they say rigged elections in 1996.

The rebellions have displaced 400,000 people and more than 10,000 children have been kidnapped by rebels intent on boosting their ranks.

"We have achieved what we have been fighting for - a blanket amnesty," northern MP Ronald Reagan Okumu told Reuters news agency.

"Everything should be all right now, since the people have told us they are ready to forgive and forget."

The northern Gulu district has borne the brunt of atrocities during 13 years of fighting.

"This is a very important gesture by the government and I think the rebels should reciprocate by releasing some of the children," said Gulu district MP Nobert Mao.

There has been a lull in rebel activity in the north in recent months but the ADF stepped up attacks in the west in November.

In the latest attack, six people were killed when rebels opened fire on a displaced people's camp in Bundibugyo district on Saturday night.
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