Bishop Nelson Onono-Onweng, Bishop of Northern Uganda Diocese in the Church of Uganda (Anglican), was among a group of religious, cultural, and political leaders that traveled to the Garamba Forest in northeastern Congo to meet face-to-face with Joseph Kony, the leader of the rebel group known as the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). The meeting took place on Monday, 31st July 2006
The LRA has been fighting the Government of Uganda for twenty years in Northern Uganda, and has been accused of abducting children and forcing them to become child soldiers in his cause. Countless women have been raped and maimed, men have been killed, and girls have been conscripted to be concubines of Kony and his commanders.
More than 2 million Ugandans have succumbed to living under inhumane conditions in Camps for Internally Displaced Persons in order to avoid the random and merciless attacks of LRA groups. Children have resorted to becoming "night commuters" into nearby towns to avert forced abduction into the LRA. The UN considers Northern Uganda to be one of the worst humanitarian disasters in the world today.
In June, Riek Machar, the Vice-President of Southern Sudan, offered to mediate yet another round of peace talks between the LRA and the Government of Uganda. Teams from both sides, along with Acholi religious leaders, have been meeting in Juba, Southern Sudan, for the talks.
Because of the arrest warrants issued against Kony by the International Criminal Court, Kony refused to attend the talks, but invited leaders to meet him in his current hideout in Garamba Forest in northeastern Congo.
During the historic meeting, Bishop Nelson spoke. "Many people fear to see the face of Kony, thinking that he is the Devil, a terrorist and a monster," the Bishop said. "But, Kony is created in the image of God, and he also has to see that we, too, are created in the image of God."
Quoting from the Genesis account of the reconciliation of estranged twin brothers Jacob and Esau, Bishop Nelson exhorted those present to embrace reconciliation, "For to see your face is like seeing the face of God." (Gen 33.10).
Kony responded by saying, "Now that you have come and seen for yourself that I am not a monster with a tail and huge eyes, you have confirmed that I am a human being. Go back and tell the people of northern Uganda that I want peace."
Information Officer for the Northern Uganda Diocese, Rev. Willy Akena, said, "The main purpose of this meeting was to build confidence with Kony, and I strongly believe that purpose was accomplished. The fact that Kony accepted to sit, talk, take pictures, and eat with people is a clear sign that he is gaining confidence in our assurance that he will be safe to return home. We want him to accept the peace deal that is being negotiated in Juba."
Akena concluded with a plea, "Our request to the entire Church of Christ is to join us in prayers, so that this time round total peace comes back to our motherland that has known only war for the last 20 years."