Ugandan rebel delegates plan first visit to Kampala

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JUBA, Sudan, Oct 2 (Reuters) Delegates from Uganda's rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) plan to meet government officials in Kampala this week, senior officials today said in a potential boost to the country's peace process.

The visit to the Ugandan capital would be the first by LRA representatives since the start of the group's two-decade insurgency that has killed tens of thousands of people.

''On Thursday the LRA delegation will travel to Kampala,'' said south Sudan President Salva Kiir in Juba.

''Even the Ugandans could not believe that these people can set foot there,'' he told a group of elder statesmen including South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former US President Jimmy Carter on a visit to Sudan to help mediate various issues.

Officials said the LRA leaders, wanted by an international war crimes court, would however remain in the bush.

Under peace talks taking place in neighbouring south Sudan, the government is next due to discuss with LRA delegates how to deal with crimes committed during the conflict.

More than a year of the stop-start talks in Juba, capital of south Sudan, has raised hopes of an end to one of Africa's longest running conflicts.

Despite mutual accusations of violence and repeated walkouts by the LRA, a truce signed in August 2006 has largely held, and Kiir said a peace deal could be struck in the coming months.

''By the end of the year we may find a ... solution to this conflict,'' he said.

INDICTMENTS Kiir said such a deal may help solve the dilemma over International Criminal Court indictments against LRA chief Joseph Kony and three other commanders for crimes such as killing civilians and abducting children to use as fighters and sex slaves.

Many Ugandans want Kony and his henchmen to face local courts and traditional reconciliation rituals instead, but the ICC insists it will not drop the case.

Uganda's chief government negotiator and Internal Affairs Minister Ruhakana Rugunda confirmed the LRA delegation's visit.

''The LRA delegates were invited by the government of Uganda and when they come they will be guests of the state,'' he told Reuters.

But he declined to say whether the LRA delegation would meet President Yoweri Museveni.

The one-day trip to Kampala is part of the LRA delegation's week-long tour of Uganda to discuss how peace should be implemented, and to gather people from war-affected areas in the LRA assembly point on the Sudan-Congo border.

Reuters ARB RS1945

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