KAMPALA, 27 Sep 2005 (IRIN) - Uganda has asked the Democratic Republic of Congo to arrest and hand over Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebels who are allegedly seeking asylum in the vast central African state, a senior government official said on Monday.
Ugandan Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Kutesa said his office had informed the Congolese government and the UN Mission there, known as MONUC, of its wishes and was awaiting an official response.
A response of sorts came on Monday from Congolese Vice-President Azarias Ruberwa, in charge of security and defence.
"The army is planning operations. We have no choice, we absolutely have to disarm them," he said.
Ruberwa said the Congolese army would use force against the estimated 400 rebels if necessary.
The rebels and their families, led by LRA deputy commander Vincent Otti, entered Congo's northeastern Garamba National Park last week.
On Friday, the Uganda's defence minister, Amama Mbabazi, said his government remained sceptical of the rebels' motives for entering the Congo, noting that they could be using the country to regroup and prepare to launch further attacks on Ugandan civilian and military targets.
"It is possible that they are asking for political asylum in order to avoid any harassment and have some time to rest and reorganise, or it could be a deception," he had said at a news conference in Kampala. "Whatever it is, we will find out soon."
However, he ruled out the possibility of Uganda deploying its troops to the Congo to flush out the insurgents.
"We think that the Congolese authorities and MONUC will do the needful," Mbabazi said. "Therefore, it will not be necessary to take action in self-defence."
The Congolese government has given all foreign armed groups up to 30 September to leave the country or face "serious consequences".
Other Ugandan dissident groups that have been in eastern Congo for years are the Allied Democratic Forces, the National Army for the Liberation of Uganda and the People's Redemption Army.
Mbabazi said on Friday that the LRA in southern Sudan had split into three groups, with a second faction also attempting to cross into the Congo.
"The third group, headed by LRA leader Joseph Kony, is 40 km north of the Red Line [in southern Sudan, which Ugandan troops are not permitted to cross to fight the rebels] and we have asked the Sudanese government to engage them," he said.
The LRA has operated from bases in northern Uganda and southern Sudan for the past 19 years. The rebellion has forced up to 1.6 million people from their homes in northern Uganda into camps for the internally displaced scattered across the region.
In the past weeks, the LRA has carried out a number of violent acts of aggression on targets in southern Sudan, attacking villages, staging road ambushes and fighting battles with the southern Sudan People's Liberation Army.