LRA: Ugandan bishop urges negotiated settlement
A Ugandan Church leader who has played a key role in efforts to bring an end to the conflict involving the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) has said military strategies are not the answer.
Archbishop John Baptist Odama told the BBC a negotiated settlement was still worth striving for.
He said efforts were needed to "touch the humanity" of the rebel movement's leader, Joseph Kony.
The conflict began in Uganda before affecting three other countries.
Archbishop Odama's call might appear strange given the notoriety of the rebel leader's movement - particularly its reputation for abducting large numbers of children and using them as fighters and sex slaves.
But the archbishop of the Roman Catholic diocese of Gulu in northern Uganda has been deeply involved in the efforts to bring an end to the conflict.
It afflicted a swathe of northern and eastern Uganda for 20 years before being exported to the Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic.
I spoke to him during a three-day visit he is paying to London to help launch a new report by Conciliation Resources on building peace across borders.
Mr Kony was a Catholic altar boy who became the leader of a movement that was initially seen principally as a bizarre religious cult.
But as its tactics earned it a growing reputation for terrorising the civilian population and normal life across northern Uganda became increasingly disrupted, the army stepped up military operations against Mr Kony and his forces.
Archbishop Odama and colleagues set up the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative, trying to persuade the LRA and the Ugandan government to reach a peaceful settlement of the conflict.
The archbishop is also involved in a regional and more broad-based task force working for an alternative to military strategies for ending the conflict now that it affects four countries.
His message is that the track record of military offensives against the LRA demonstrates that force is not the answer - and that even though a negotiated peace settlement ultimately failed in 2008, it is still worth striving for.
"Governments should learn from what has happened," Archbishop Odama told me.
"They should invest more in seeking the views of the communities. Their role is very important - they know who has access to these people."
The archbishop argues that this will be more effective than simply creating more conflict.
"If you say 'I am going to kill you' and 'I want to talk with you', it is two signals and they are not easily acceptable," he said.
He believes that the main reason the 2008 peace initiative did not succeed was a failure of trust. He says Mr Kony was still very afraid that he could be arrested by the International Criminal Court or that he might be killed, and there were other confusing factors that made signing the peace deal difficult.
A recent report by the Enough Project said: "Erroneous descriptions of the LRA as a Christian fundamentalist group composed of drugged children led by a madman have led to a profound underestimation of the strength and military ability of the LRA."
Archbishop Odama, who has met Mr Kony face-to-face several times in the course of his peace efforts, adds another dimension to this.
"Not enough of his humanity was touched to make him come out more fully instead of stigmatising and bedevilling him," he says.
The archbishop believes radio broadcasts have a vital role to play in the building of trust and confidence that he says offers the greatest chance of peace. But he also warns: "It will not be quick. Experience has shown that."