KAMPALA (Reuters) – A senior Lord’s Resistance Army commander who surrendered last week appealed on Uganda television on Monday for the rebel group’s remaining fighters to give themselves up, and said President Yoweri Museveni had forgiven him.
Dominic Ongwen, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity, is being held in Central African Republic by U.S. forces helping to fight the LRA, according to Ugandan authorities.
Kampala says it wants to bring him back to Uganda where the notorious rebel group is accused of killing thousands and kidnapping children to use as fighters and sex slaves.
In an audio recording originally broadcast on local radio in Central African Republic, Ongwen appealed directly to LRA fighters, some of them by name, to lay down their arms.
“The head of state has promised to forgive me, and he said the world will hear about the wonders he will do for me,” Ongwen said in the nearly eight-minute address, excerpts of which were aired on Ugandan independent television channel NTV.
“I am now a free man despite the ICC case against me. If I can come back, then what about you who have no case?” he said in the recording, a full copy of which was seen by Reuters.
Uganda’s army routinely broadcasts messages from surrendered or captured LRA fighters to try to encourage defections. However authorities in Kampala would not immediately comment on the recording which was aired at a time when Ongwen’s fate has yet to be decided.
Human rights groups are calling for him to be transferred to the ICC but some Ugandans say he should face justice at home. Uganda has pardoned around 13,000 former LRA rebels under a 2000 amnesty law though it is not clear if Ongwen would qualify for it.
The LRA rose up against the government in northern Uganda in the late 1980s under the leadership of Joseph Kony, who claimed to be guided by the voices of spirits.
Having earned a reputation for carrying out massacres and mutilating victims, the LRA left Uganda about a decade ago and has roamed across parts of Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and CAR since then, eluding efforts to defeat them.