Collapse of Uganda-LRA Peace Talks Could Hamper Regional Stability
IDP(Internally Displaced People) camp in Gulu.

Collapse of Uganda-LRA Peace Talks Could Hamper Regional Stability

Nervousness sets in as Peace Talks collapse.

By Gideon Munaabi
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First published: March 1, 2007

The news that the LRA had pulled out of the Juba talks dashed the hopes Uganda and the region had towards a peaceful end to the conflict that former United Nations Humanitarian Chief described as the world's most neglected disaster.

Following the LRA negotiators' suspension of their participation in the Juba peace talks in south Sudan, there is fear that a resumption of hostilities is most likely unless all stakeholders take decisive and immediate action to resume the talks.

During two decades of violence in northern Uganda, hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians have been killed or mutilated and tens of thousands of children have been abducted, forced into combat and subjected to torture and sexual violence. Another estimated 1.7 million people have been caged in Internally Displaced Peoples Camps dotting northern and northeastern Uganda.

Following the signing of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement, some IDPs started returning to their homes. This is because the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement signed in August 2006 was widely seen as the best prospect to end the 21-year war. The government said at the time of signing that it whole-heartedly welcomes the talks that it 'believes' would resolve the problem that has plunged northern Uganda and Southern Sudan for a long time and has spilled over into the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"It is government's firm belief that this time round, a tangible solution will come out of these peace talks," reads the government statement on the peace talks".

According to the agreement that was signed on August 26, 2006, the LRA rebels were supposed to assemble at two points, Ri-Kwangba and Owiny-Kibul, by February 28.

However, the group that briefly gathered at Owiny-Kibul later proceeded to DR Congo, while those in the vicinity of Ri-Kwangba are said to have moved to the Central African Republic claiming that they feared attack from the UPDF deployed in Southern Sudan.

Before the Agreement expired, the rebels made it clear that they would not remain in the designated areas as agreed in the CHA because of fear that they would be attacked by the Ugandan army. The UPDF has denied ever attacking or planning to attack the rebels.

On its part, the government asked the rebels to return to the negotiating table. "We are asking the LRA to respond to our call and renew the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement, for the sake of the Internally Displaced Persons," state minister for foreign affairs, Henry Oryem said on February 27, 2007. But still, the ray of hope keeps fading day by day.

The International Rescue Committee Alert warns that Uganda faced an imminent return to armed conflict unless urgent action was taken to rescue the talks.

What is even more worrying is that the breakdown of negotiations and the subsequent resumption of hostilities would lead to insecurity and the deterioration of humanitarian conditions not only in Uganda and Sudan but also in the DRC, Chad and Central African Republic.

On Monday February 26, the DRC Interior Minister, Gen. Denis Kalume warned that the LRA will be pushed out of the bush of the Democratic Republic of Congo where the rebels are using as bases. This was after the LRA fighters pillaged villages in north- east Congo, near the border with Uganda, Sudan and Central African Republic. Whether the DRC has the capacity to flash out the rebels or not, the LRA has already found a save haven in the Central Africa Republic.

There have been reports that Joseph Kony, the leader of the LRA had shifted his base from Garamba forests in the Democratic Republic of Congo to the Central African Republic where the security situation is volatile as a result of the civil war in the country. The UPDF says that the LRA, fearing reprisal from the Congolese army, have crossed into the Central African Republic, joining forces with rebels fighting the government there. There are also reports that the rebels had crossed into Chad (where some are believed to be doing mercenary work) for the rebels fighting the government.

Analysts say that unless the question of the safety of the LRA top leadership is addressed, the rebels may never sign the peace deal. LRA leader Joseph Kony, his deputy, Vincent Otti and three others are wanted for war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Given the fact that the government Amnesty to the rebels does not provide them immunity against arrest and prosecution by the International Court, the rebels may be determined to continue this path even if it means being killed on the battle line like former UNITA (of Angola) rebel leader, Jonas Savimbi.

That is what makes the peace deal being sought in Juba even more complicated. Surrendering as the government wants them (rebels) to do would be like jumping from the flying pan (bushfire from the UPDF and may be the SPLA) to the fire (the ICC and generally the world that has always wanted to know the men behind the cruel rebellion).

The other problem, according to analysts is what the rebels call the lack of insincerity on the side of the government and particularly president Yoweri Museveni. In their opening statement at the start of the historical talks, the LRA delegation expressed this concern.

"Your Excellency, the present government came to power with a dirt record of insincerity shrouded in the failed Nairobi Peace Agreement. True to character, the NRM government has used the same method of insincerity to renege on so many agreements with so many other fighting forces including the LRA, when several times they have used peaceful initiatives to either kill the LRA leaders or lure them out of the bush as exemplified by the last Betty Bigombe peace initiative of 2004 when Brigadiers Banya, Kamdulu, Sam Kolo and scores of others were lured out of the bush," reads the LRA opening statement.

As we speak now, nobody is sure what will be next tomorrow, but at least peace in northern Uganda and the entire region is still a dream. Even then, there is need to keep the hope alive as everything is done not by Uganda or South Sudan alone but the entire international community since the Kony conflict goes beyond Ugandan borders.

As Senator Russ Feingold, Chairman of the USA Senate Subcommittee on African Affairs, said a day before the expiration of the ceasefire (February 27, 2007), "With the current ceasefire between the Government of Uganda and the LRA set to expire soon, the U.S. and the international community must step up our efforts to achieve a sustainable and lasting peace."

But the efforts should begin from within. Kony, his men, the government and all Africans should be at the forefront of these efforts.

By Gideon Munaabi
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First published: March 1, 2007
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Gideon Munaabi is a journalist and public relations practitioner with Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd. He has been and continues writing widely for different publication locally and internationally. He is a founding member of Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd and is currently the chairman of the organisation.