updated 7/13/2006 3:44:44 PM ET 2006-07-13T19:44:44

Uganda will soon begin negotiations with rebels to end a 19-year civil war in the north, despite insurgents’ refusal to send their top leaders for the talks, a mediator said Thursday.

Riek Machar, vice president of southern Sudan’s autonomous government and mediator for the talks, said the two sides were committed to beginning peace talks even after rebels refused to heed demands from the Ugandan government that they send negotiators who could make binding decisions on behalf of the insurgents.

Rebels fear they will be detained
Leaders of the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army, or LRA, refused to attend the talks because they were afraid they might be detained under warrants issued by the International Criminal Court, Machar said.

“They felt insecure. You can’t force someone to come to a place he feels insecure,” Machar said after meeting the insurgents’ deputy chief near the border with lawless eastern Congo.

The Netherlands-based court issued the warrants last year for rebel chief Joseph Kony and four of his top commanders for crimes against humanity including the killing of thousands of civilians and enslaving thousands of children. The court called on Congo, Sudan and Uganda to arrest the five.

“The new position, as far as I know, of the government of Uganda is that they will negotiate with the LRA delegation unconditionally,” Machar told journalists at Juba International Airport

Uganda’s government spokesman Robert Kabushenga confirmed the government delegation would still attend the talks, but neither he or Machar was able to say when talks would begin in Juba, capital of the autonomous southern Sudan.

Machar called on the rebels to respond to the government’s concession by sending at least two of the indicted leaders to the negotiating team anyway.

Amnesty offer
Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni has promised that if peace talks go well and the rebels abandon violence, Kony would not be arrested to face the International Criminal Court. The United States has criticized the amnesty offer.

Uganda’s security minister, Amama Mbabazi, traveled Wednesday to the Netherlands for talks at the International Criminal Court. The court’s chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, said Mbabazi updated him on the peace talks effort but did not ask for the withdrawal of arrest warrants against the indicted LRA leaders.

“The arrest warrants remain in effect,” Moreno-Ocampo said. “It is the view of the office of the prosecutor and the government of Uganda that justice and peace have worked together thus far and can continue to work together.”

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