The Ugandan military has resumed operations in areas of war-affected northern Uganda, despite ongoing talks with the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in Juba, southern Sudan, an army spokesman said on Wednesday.
"We have sent squads to areas we withdrew from to make sure there are no [LRA] elements there that can cause trouble and these will establish whether there are still some LRA elements in the region," said Lt. Chris Magezi, the army spokesman for northern Uganda.
Under a 26 August Cessation of Hostilities Agreement between the LRA and the Ugandan government, the rebels had until 19 September to assemble at two sites in southern Sudan, via designated safe passage routes. They were to remain there for the duration of the talks.
The rebels have, however, claimed that the Ugandan army has surrounded the two sites - Owiny Ki-Bul in Sudan’s Eastern Equatoria state and Ri-Kwangba in Western Equatoria state. Last week, the LRA team in Juba threatened to walk out of the peace talks unless the Ugandan People’s Defence Force (UPDF) withdrew its troops from the two sites. The Ugandan army denied the claims.
Over the weekend, a monitoring team found that the rebels who had assembled at Owiny Ki-Bul had dispersed.
Maj. Felix Kulayigye, another army spokesman, said the UPDF had returned to the safe passage corridors created for the rebels to move to the assembly points, but there were no reports of any combat operations yet.
"The UPDF has resumed its duty to defend the people," he said. "We have gone back to the positions we had withdrawn from under the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement."
Both Magezi and Kulayigye said the military had no plans to move beyond areas they had patrolled before the truce took effect.
It was not immediately clear how the redeployment of the Ugandan soldiers would affect the Juba peace talks, which aim to peacefully end two decades of fighting that has killed thousands and displaced almost two million people.
Ayena Odongo, an LRA delegate, said from Juba that "the declaration of war" was not likely to disrupt the talks. "We shall continue with the talks with all dedication in spite of the declaration of war by the Ugandan government. We shall leave that for the international community and the people of Uganda to judge who is acting in bad faith," he said.
Other senior members of the government and rebel delegations at the Juba talks said the two sides were very near a peace deal, despite continued bickering over the real contents of the truce and war crimes charges against the LRA leadership by the Hague-based International Criminal Court.
Paddy Ankunda, the spokesman for Kampala's delegation, and Martin Ojul, the leader of the LRA team, said in separate interviews that they thought a final settlement could be reached soon.