UGANDA: Population out of step with peace talks - report

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Northern Ugandans are feeling disconnected from peace talks aimed at bringing an end to the region’s 20-year conflict, according to a report published on 24 September by the Oxfam international development agency.

The report, The building blocks of sustainable peace, based on surveys and focus groups in the north’s displacement camps, found Ugandans' knowledge of the Juba peace talks to be “uniformly poor”, resulting in an increased feeling of marginalisation.

The Ugandan government and Lord’s Resistance Army rebels have promised to consult civilians affected by the brutal conflict on what sort of justice and reconciliation settlement they would prefer. But the LRA’s plan to airlift war victims into their jungle camp has been criticised by the Acholi traditional leader, Paramount Chief Rwot Achana, who says it will not lead to the meaningful consultation desired by victims.

Oxfam questioned displaced Ugandans on a number of subjects, from what constituted peace to perceptions of the International Criminal Court and rehabilitation of returning LRA fighters.

Just 4 percent of those surveyed said they felt “well informed” about the peace process, with “virtually no-one” questioned having detailed knowledge of the negotiations taking place in the Southern Sudanese capital of Juba since July 2006.

“There is little information getting through to the IDP population,” the report concludes, which “reinforce[es] the longstanding feeling of marginalisation among much of the [displaced] population”.

Oxfam’s Savio Carvalho said, “The very serious effects of this decades-long civil war are still acutely felt and the loss of trust of the communities in the government is striking. Together with the support of the international community, the government of Uganda has to further build the confidence of the affected population so that their voice will not be lost when the future of their region is decided.”

What kind of justice?

The Ugandan government and LRA are preparing to consult the affected population on how best to hold perpetrators to account for crimes committed during the conflict, characterised by child abduction and mutilation. The government and rebels agreed in principle in June to set up some form of indigenous justice system but have yet to provide details.

Riek Machar, Southern Sudan’s mediator, has given the LRA US$700,000 to fly 480 consultees to their camp at Ri-Kwangba for their views on what a suitable justice mechanism might look like.

But northern Ugandans say a meaningful consultation exercise cannot take place in a militarised camp and that the rebels should travel to Ugandan camps.

Paul Okot, 70, from Patira resettlement camp in Amuru district, had his lips and ears cut off by the LRA and says he would like to give his opinion in the consultations but would not risk travelling to South Sudan. “I really want consultation to be not too far,” he said. “Let them come here. We want them to come here. Why would I feel safe after what they have done to me?”

Ugandans said they wanted more protection against cattle-raiders from neighbouring Karamoja, better trained and behaved security forces and more counselling and support for returning rebels who could often be traumatised and violent.

Seventy percent of those surveyed said they expected northern Uganda to become safer.

Asked what peace meant to them, 84 percent said full freedom of movement compared to 71 percent who said an end to fighting.

Oxfam’s report is based on a survey of 600 displaced Acholi, focus group discussions with 91 displaced people, interviews with camp leaders conducted in May and June 2007.

Source: IRIN