No deal after U N official meets Ugandan rebel Kony

 
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RIKWANGBA, Sudan, Nov 12 (Reuters) U N humanitarian chief Jan Egeland met the reclusive commander of a Ugandan rebel group in the jungle today but the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) said the two sides were unable to reach agreement.

Egeland had wanted to persuade LRA leader Joseph Kony to release women and children it may be holding and to let any wounded go to hospital. The LRA wants the International Criminal Court to revoke arrest warrants against Kony and other leaders.

But after a 10-minute encounter in a green U N tent at an assembly point near the border with Democratic Republic of Congo, Kony told reporters no agreement was reached.

''We don't have any children. We only have combatants. There are no wounded,'' added Kony, speaking to reporters.

LRA deputy leader Vincent Otti said the question of the arrest warrants came up in the talks as an obstacle to Kony and his lieutenants taking part in negotiations with the Ugandan government in Juba, capital of southern Sudan.

''If the warrants are lifted, then we can go to the peace talks,'' Otti told reporters. Egeland has no authority over the international court, which is independent by treaty.

LRA officials had said it was unlikely Kony would agree to Egeland's request that he release women and children. ''These people are families. They don't want to leave,'' said one.

At the brief meeting, Kony's first with an international official of Egeland's rank, voices were raised and the discussion was heated, witnesses said.

HELICOPTER TRIP Egeland had hoped to secure humanitarian gestures from Kony as a way to promote talks on ending the 20-year-old conflict, in which tens of thousands of people have been killed and nearly 2 million have been displaced in northern Uganda.

This month the Ugandan government and the rebels signed an extension of a truce but the talks have been difficult.

The International Criminal Court in The Hague issued arrest warrants for Kony and other LRA leaders for crimes against humanity after human rights groups accused the rebels of enslaving children and mutilating their victims.

Egeland flew by helicopter from Juba to the border settlement of Nbanga and then drove through thick tropical forest for his meeting with Kony.

After Egeland had waited hours at an assembly point for LRA fighters, a posse of 15 young LRA fighters turned up to clear the way for Kony, who could be arrested for trial in The Hague.

Earlier the LRA and the Sudanese government party had agreed to a weapons-free zone for the meeting but Kony's armed escorts stood close through the meeting.

About 100 LRA fighters had been visible at the jungle clearing, some in khaki, others in football shirts or Hawaiian shirts. Many wore rubber boots against the heavy mud which comes with the rains at this time of year.

The LRA manned a checkpoint on the road to the assembly point, with a wooden log balanced across two posts. The LRA fighters searched Egeland's convoy thoroughly.

''Be careful, madame, don't sent any satellite coordinates from here,'' one of the fighters said.

Reuters AKJ DB1959

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