Hope for Uganda as Peace Talks Begin
FDC spokeman, Wafula Ogutu (L) and MP Reagan Okumu at FDC offices. Ogutu says the party is happy with the peace talks.

Hope for Uganda as Peace Talks Begin

A rare dawn of hope for peace in Ugandaas peace talks begin.

By Gerald Rulekere
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First published: July 11, 2006

Many people in Uganda, the eastern Africa region and indeed the whole world have their ears and eyes at full attention as they wait hopefully and anxiously for the results of this week's peace talks between Uganda and the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) rebels.

The clock is ticking. The date to begin the talks has been tentatively agreed as Wednesday July 12, 2006, this week, in Juba, Southern Sudan. Both sides have already sent their delegations to Juba, southern Sudan for the Dr. Riek Machar (Southern Sudan Vice President) mediated peace talks.

The people who have disagreed for more than 20 years about this conflict in northern Uganda have never spoken the same tongue (seeking a peaceful end to the war) and with the level of commitment exhibited so far. The LRA leadership has already agreed to an amnesty offer by the government of President Yoweri Museveni. They can now come out of rebellion and will not be punished, and will be given resettlement packages like those who have already denounced rebellion. But much of it will depend on the results of the peace talks.

The peace talks have brought President Museveni and his sworn foes in agreement: That a peaceful end to the war at whatever cost is better than any other option.

Many people were surprised at President Museveni's offer of total amnesty to LRA leader, Joseph Kony and other LRA commanders. Not so long ago, Museveni orchestrated a change in the amnesty law to make it impossible for the LRA leaders to benefit from amnesty, and later suing them in the International Criminal Court (ICC). But now Museveni says he will convince Parliament, in which his ruling National Resistance Movement has a majority, to amend the Amnesty law to ensure that the top LRA leaders can benefit from amnesty in order for northern Uganda to have peace.

The President is also holding off strong pressure from the ICC who insists that they will continue to look for Kony and the four LRA commanders to arrest them, even if the government is bent on a peaceful settlement. The spokesperson of the government peace talks team, Lt. Paddy Ankunda has revealed that the government is set to talk to the ICC over the impasse between the government and the ICC on whether to arrest or not arrest Joseph Kony and four other LRA commanders who have been indicted by the Hague based world Court. The talks are to ensure that they do not arrest LRA leader, Joseph Kony or any other LRA commanders when they come for the peace talks on Wednesday.

The Court has already issued warrants of arrest for the five LRA leaders but the Uganda government which has sued the rebels is planning to talk peace with the rebels in order to end the twenty year old war that has killed and displaced many people in northern Uganda.

President Museveni is reported to have asked LRA leader Joseph Kony or his deputy, Vincent Otti to lead the LRA delegation so that decisions can be arrived at in the talks instead of sending representatives who can't make decisions.

The government has also toned down insistence that Kony and the LRA may not be serious about the talks, because of the military pressure which has killed many of the rebels troops, and are treating the LRA as serious in this peace endeavor.

President Museveni has also extended the time in which the LRA must have reached a peaceful settlement with the government- from July to September 12, 2006, another indication that the peaceful end to the war is now within arm's reach to the man who has always emphasized that the rebels "will be crushed militarily" and are "terrorists".

For the first time, all opposition groups in Uganda are in total agreement with Museveni and his government. The leader of the opposition in the government, Prof. Ogenga Latigo, has welcomed the peace talks and the willingness expressed by both parties to talk peace as the best effort so far.

Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) Chairman, Sulaiman Kiggundu says the talks are a welcome move, although they would be better handled if the Acholi people are actively involved in the peace talks. The Acholi have been the most affected tribe by war in northern Uganda. "We know what they have gone through for the last two decades and I think their active participation would guide the negotiating team in some areas," Kiggundu says in an interview.

The government says it has included religious and local leaders from the region on the government's peace talks negotiation team.

Gulu district Local Council 5 Chairman, Nobert Mao, a long time critic of Museveni, expresses hope that peace could finally come to the region after the peace talks.

He appreciates the efforts shown by the government of Southern Sudan to bring the warring parties in Uganda together for peace talks, as well as the government's and LRA's willingness to talk peace.

The President of Uganda People's Congress, Miria Obote has also supported the government in going for peace and holding off pressure to arrest LRA leaders. She told journalists in Kampala that a peaceful end to war is always the best option.

The FDC spokesman, Wafula Oguttu says that despite the delay in the peaceful end to the war and mistrust by the two parties, the current peace talks drive should be supported to every level. He says the FDC is hoping the talks will end the war and suffering in northern Uganda and free the country's resources and people for more development.

This is a turning point in the history of peace attempts by the two warring parties, as each will all not want to be the one responsible for the failure of the talks. Not only are they mediated by the Southern Sudan government which has the trust of both parties, the talks are being orchestrated by Southern Sudan Vice President Dr. Riek Machar, also struggling to bring peace to Southern Sudan after more than 27 years of war. For some one to leave their own problem to help out in another will make it a big let down by the government or the LRA should either one go back on their word.

As of now none of the two parties is showing less than a willingness to end the war through this peace initiative. The leader of the government peace talks delegation, Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda, says that the government is committed to a peaceful settlement of the war and is hoping a good settlement will be arrived at in the Juba talks.

That is necessary, because the feeling in the whole country is one full of hope for a dawn of the much desired and awaited peace in northern Uganda, whose situation has saddened many people who have contributed all they can but peace. Now that those fighting are about to talk peace, an end to the war and eventual peace may be more of a reality than a dream.

By Gerald Rulekere
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First published: July 11, 2006
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Gerald Rulekere is a Journalist and member of Ultimate Media Consult. He has written and published extensively on business and gender issues and been writing for Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd for the last two years. A professional and graduate journalist, Rulekere is always looking for an opportunity to better his writing especially for international media.