SUDAN-UGANDA: Rebel delegation quits talks, seeks 'neutral' venue

Sunday, January 21, 2007
The Lord’s Resistance Army has 'disengaged' from peace negotiations with the Ugandan government and will not continue the process until a neutral host country is found, a spokesman for the rebel group said on Friday.

"In the circumstances and due to security considerations, [the] LRA delegation are not going back to Juba but would prefer that the talks resume in a neutral venue, preferably Kenya, South Africa or other neutral country," Obonyo Olweny, the LRA spokesman, told a news conference in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

The talks have been going on in the southern Sudan capital of Juba since July 2006. Olweny said the rebels’ decision followed recent comments by Sudanese President Omar El Bashir and South Sudan President Salva Kiir Mayardit that the LRA was no longer welcome in southern Sudan.

The Ugandan government said the rebels had misunderstood the Sudanese position. "I am very disappointed with the announcement by the LRA," Okello Oryem, minister of state for international relations and deputy leader of the Ugandan delegation to the talks, told IRIN in Kampala.

"The statement made by the Sudanese authorities should have been taken in the right context. They said: if there is no peace agreement signed, then the government will kick out the LRA. This shouldn't have been a basis of argument because we are in talks," Oryem added.

The head of a northern Uganda peace forum, Acholi Religious Leaders’ Peace Initiative, Archbishop John Baptist Odama, said: "The LRA should reconsider their demands because the people in northern Uganda are over-anxious to see that the peace process succeeds."

Urging the rebels to return to the talks, Odama added: "They should talk over the disagreement instead of pulling out. This is not going to go down well with the IDPs [internally displaced persons] who have borne the brunt of the conflict and were over-expectant."

An estimated 230,000 IDPs returned to their villages in 2006 as prospects for peace improved with the Juba talks. However, up to 1.2 million others are still in camps across northern Uganda.

The Nairobi news conference was called by the rebels and Africa Peace Point, a Kenyan peace mediation NGO.

The rebels urged the chairman of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki, to convene an IGAD conference "to salvage the talks by agreeing to an alternative venue".

"The LRA welcomes regional and international support that can help to resolve this horrendous conflict that has stubbornly refused to go away … for the last 20 years, which resulted in tremendous suffering to the people of Uganda," Olweny said, reading a statement signed by Martin Ojul, leader of the rebel delegation.

Olweny said the LRA would continue to respect the cessation of hostilities agreement signed in August 2006 and subsequent protocols. Under the deal, LRA combatants were to gather at two assembly points in Sudan. However, the fighters have stayed away, accusing the Uganda People's Defence Forces (UPDF) of surrounding them.

He said the LRA was still committed to a "mediated and negotiated" peace settlement between it and the Ugandan government "as the best way of bringing total peace to the people of northern and eastern Uganda in particular and for the rest of the Uganda in general".

Regarding indictments by the International Criminal Court (ICC) against four senior LRA officials, including leader Joseph Kony, Ojul said the indictments remained an obstacle to peace. He added that ICC investigations in northern Uganda were one-sided as they ignored atrocities committed by the UPDF.

The LRA leadership could not sign a peace agreement as long as ICC arrest warrants hung over their heads, Ojul said.

"We don’t deny that the LRA has committed atrocities," he said. "The Ugandan army has also committed many atrocities in the north."

Ojul also said he had met the United Nations Secretary-General's special representative to northern Uganda, the former Mozambican president, Joachim Chissano, and had presented him with a memorandum detailing the LRA's concerns and decision to pull out of the talks in Juba.

Olweny maintained that the LRA was a well-structured political organisation whose leadership was working towards a just society in Uganda where northern Ugandans, whom he termed "second-class citizens", were not marginalised and where all Ugandans were united and living in peace.

"The LRA has over time been cast in a bad light as a terrorist organisation and not a liberation movement by the Ugandan government; we strongly object to this," he said.
Source: IRIN
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