UGANDA: Rebel leaders visit expected to boost peace process

Friday, November 2, 2007

The first official visit to the Ugandan capital by members of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) has raised hopes among people affected by two decades of conflict in the north of the country that lasting peace could be within reach.

"The visit gives us hope," said Monsignor Matthew Odongo the vicar-general of the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Gulu, one of the northern Uganda districts most affected by the LRA insurgency. "We are looking at its outcome as an expedited peace process and an agreement," he told IRIN by telephone from Gulu town.

Army spokesman Major Felix Kulaigye said that an advance party of two LRA officials arrived on 29 October at Entebbe airport from the Southern Sudan capital Juba - where peace talks between the government and the LRA have been held since 2006.

The aim of the visit was to lay the groundwork for higher-level meetings within Uganda itself.

"Rei Achama and Michael Anywar who represent the LRA on the Cessation of Hostilities Monitoring Team, arrived and would have talks with the government peace team monitoring an August 2006 truce,” said Kulaigye.

"Their coming is part of a confidence-building mechanism under the peace process and they will discuss security arrangements needed for the LRA delegation that will be coming for consultations," he said. "This is a sign of many more good things coming as far as the peace process is concerned."

Odongo agreed that the visit would contribute to the peace process.

"Both the LRA and the UPDF [Ugandan People's Defence Forces, the national army] have feared each other and when such visits are arranged, they help in reducing tension," he added.

The rebel delegation to the peace talks announced on 30 October that it would make a landmark visit to Uganda this week to seek public views on the peace process before the parleys resume in Juba.

Chief LRA negotiator Martin Ojul was due to meet President Yoweri Museveni in Kampala on 1 November.

"The consultation exercise we are about to embark on marks a new milestone in efforts to find lasting solutions to the political, social and economic problems in Uganda," Ojul told reporters in neighbouring Kenya on 30 October.

The consultations in Uganda were expected to last until 13 December and would give way to the first-ever LRA convention since 1988, when the group took the helm of a rebellion in the north of the country.

Since then, civilians, and especially children, have borne the brunt of the conflict through massacres, maimings and forced conscription into rebel ranks either as fighters or sex slaves.

The peace talks in Juba were adjourned in June following the signing of a protocol on the principles of accountability and reconciliation to allow the parties to seek the views of those affected by the conflict.

"The people in northern Uganda expect the parties to throw away any military option. They should have mercy on the suffering people," said Odongo.

Source: IRIN