LONDON – The leader of a cult-like Ugandan rebel force accused of kidnapping thousands of children and mutilating civilians told British media he wants to talk peace.
Joseph Kony, founder of the Lord's Resistance Army, said he was innocent of the crimes against humanity charges he faces in an international court. He said he was guided by spirits and started his 2-decade-old uprising because he wanted Uganda to be ruled by the biblical Ten Commandments.
"Peace talks are good for me," Kony said in an interview conducted in a remote camp in Congo near where the borders with Sudan and Uganda. The interview, which appeared to have been conducted in recent weeks, was with a freelance journalist who reported for The Times and the BBC. It was posted on the BBC's Web site and published by The Times on Wednesday.
Kony's public appearances and statements are rare, but last month he appeared in a video meeting with southern Sudanese leaders. At that meeting in the bush, he was reportedly persuaded to enter into negotiations with the Ugandan government and given cash that Sudanese officials stressed was for buying food, not weapons. The video of the encounter — given by Sudanese officials to Uganda — was later aired by international media.
Last year, the Netherlands-based International Criminal Court indicted Kony and his top four commanders on charges of crimes against humanity. The court has pressed Congo, Sudan and Uganda to arrest Kony. Its top prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, has criticized the Sudanese mediation effort.
In a statement Wednesday, Moreno-Ocampo offered Kony safe passage to The Hague to respond in court to the charges.
Uganda's Defense Ministry spokesman, Maj. Felix Kulayigye, told The Associated Press last week that Uganda was willing to negotiate, but would not talk to those indicted by the international court.
A Ugandan government spokesman said Wednesday a team led by the minister of internal affairs and the junior foreign minister was headed to southern Sudan for talks with Sudanese officials about their mediation effort.
If Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni "can agree to talk with me it is only a very good thing, which I know will bring peace to the people of Uganda," Kony was quoted as saying.
Kony's political agenda has always been murky, obscured by the claims he repeated in the interview that he was guided by spirits and the Bible. In the interview, Kony's main inspiration appeared to be animosity to Museveni. Kony's fighters are the remnants of a northern rebellion that began after Museveni, a southerner, took power in Uganda in 1986 at the head of a rebel army.
Kony said it was Museveni's soldiers, not his men, who cut off the ears and lips of civilians in northern Uganda, then blamed the LRA. He also said the International Criminal Court indictment stemmed from propaganda spread by Museveni.
Ugandan officials dismissed Kony's accusations as "absurd."
International human rights groups charge the LRA has abducted some 30,000 children and forced them to become fighters, porters or concubines. Rights groups also accuse the LRA of killing thousands of civilians and forcing more than 1 million people to flee their homes.