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Last Updated: Tuesday, 19 February 2008, 18:09 GMT
Ugandans reach war crimes accord
Victim of Lord's Resistance Army
The Lord's Resistance Army is known for its brutality
Ugandan rebels and the government have agreed to set up a special court to deal with alleged war crimes - one of the obstacles to a final peace deal.

A final peace deal could now be signed "soon", a government spokesman said.

The Lord's Resistance Army rebels have refused to disarm, while three of their leaders are wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The government has given the LRA until 28 February to end the war which has uprooted some two million people.

The BBC's Sarah Grainger in Kampala says the agreement is a significant step forward in the peace process.

The government will establish a unit to carry out investigations and prosecutions, giving particular attention to violations against women and children.

The unit aims to target the big fish, focusing on individuals who planned or carried out widespread, systematic or serious attacks, our correspondent says.

Capt Chris Magezi, spokesman for the government negotiating team, said a special division of the Ugandan High Court would be set up to deal with serious rebel crimes, while traditional justice would be used for lesser offences.

Map

"This is an indication that soon we will be signing the final peace agreement," he said.

LRA deputy negotiator James Obita confirmed the deal.

"In negotiations you never get it all but the LRA is happy with the agreement and is committed to the contents," he told Reuters news agency.

Our correspondent says that while the ICC indictments remain, these plans to set up a special court within Uganda will make it difficult for the international body to pursue the rebels for prosecution in The Hague.

The ICC is mandated only to act if a case is not investigated or prosecuted by a national judicial system. It is, in its own words, a court of last resort.

Hiding

Last week, a Sudanese deputy provincial governor told the BBC that hundreds of rebel fighters had left assembly points and were heading towards the Central African Republic.

The Ugandan government has expressed concerns that the death of senior rebel Vincent Otti would hamper peace talks.

Otti, second in command of the Lord's Resistance Army rebels, was reportedly killed by LRA commanders last year. But his death was only officially confirmed last month.

Otti was one of four LRA commanders wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes committed during their insurgency.

LRA leader Joseph Kony, who has also been indicted, is in hiding in the remote north-east of the Democratic Republic of Congo but the Congolese government has ordered his troops to leave their base in the Garamba National Park.

Around 20 years of fighting with the LRA has killed tens of thousands of people and uprooted some two million people.

The LRA are notorious for mutilating victims and kidnapping children to be fighters, porters and sex slaves.

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