Peace Talks or Peace Jokes? - Part 2
Juba Peace talks stretching even the most faithful.
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First published: April 19, 2008
The prospects of a peaceful end to the war in northern Uganda, have hit a dramatic setback, after the LRA leader failed to sign the final peace agreement as expected on April 10. After two years of tricky negotiations, the two sides agreed on all the five items on the peace talks' agenda, and set a date for signing the final peace agreement.
Even the fact that the LRA postponed the signing ceremony twice kept hope alive among Ugandans and all people interested in seeing a peaceful end to the war that the LRA leader was finally going to put pen to paper to end the war that started in 1986- a war that has cost Uganda, especially the north, dearly in terms of lives lost, children and adults abducted, displacement of families and destruction of property and social life.
As the Uganda peace team, cultural, religious and political leaders from northern Uganda were joined by diplomats and mediators to wait for Kony's signature, the LRA leader said he did not understand some clauses and will not sign. There has since been no further word from the LRA leader who sacked the leader of his peace team, Dr. David Matsanga, who a few months back replaced Martin Ojul whom Kony sacked in January.
The government of Uganda is yet to decide what to do Tuesday's expiry of the cessation of hostilities agreement following the failure of the LRA leader to sign the peace agreement. The two parties who have for the last almost two years been in the most promising peace talks had for the 3rd time postponed the cessation of hostilities agreement to Tuesday April 15th. If the cessation of hostilities agreement is not extended, it means the government and the LRA can re-engage in military battle as they had done for 20 years with no winner.
President Yoweri Museveni says he is waiting for a report from the Chief Mediator Dr. Riek Machar, the Vice President of Southern Sudan and the United Nations Secretary General's Special envoy on areas affected by the LRA, Mr. Joachim Chissano, before the Government of Uganda makes its decision. Dr. Machar is still in Garamba forest trying to make contact and convince the LRA leader to sign the peace talks that are greatly hoped to end the 21 year war in northern Uganda.
Kony declined to sign the agreement saying some of the clauses needed clarifying like the Acholi Traditional Justice System and the operation of the Special Division of the High Court in trying him and his commanders for war crimes, a move that has angered many people and dampened the hopes of a peaceful end to the war.
Salvar Kiir, the President of Southern Sudan which is mediating and hosting the talks in Juba says that they are still hopeful the two sides will sign a comprehensive peace agreement to end the war.
Museveni who on Monday returned from a one day working visit to Southern Sudan on the day the final peace agreement should have been signed says that the government is still committed to the peace process, but is ready to deal with the LRA militarily.
President Museveni yesterday paid glowing tribute to the Government of Southern Sudan for having played the mediation role between the Government of Uganda and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in an attempt to bring about everlasting peace.
He told journalists on Tuesday that that the persistence of the government of Southern Sudan and the main mediator Dr. Riek Machar, as well as the commitment of the Government of Uganda, has exposed the fact that the LRA leader, Joseph Kony and his leadership, has no interest in the peace talks.
But the some people had always expected the LRA not to sign until the International Criminal Court indictments on top LRA leaders are lifted, just as the LRA had always demanded. Along with his top commanders Kony is wanted by the ICC in The Hague for war crimes including rape, murder and the abductions of children forced to serve as fighters, porters and "wives". The warrants issued in 2005 against Kony and his top commanders, has been a major point of contention in the peace negotiations in Juba.
Kony had earlier indicated that he will sign the peace deal but disarmament will be done after the lifting of the ICC indictments.
Gulu RDC, Col. Walter Ochora, one of the people who have always been skeptical about Kony's commitment to peace talks says the LRA leader is a worried man and cannot voluntarily give in to end the war. Ochora who has on several occasions met Kony as part of peace delegations from northern Uganda says that Kony is very guilty and thinks he will not be forgiven.
"He has a guilty conscience. It is difficult for him to give up armed rebellion because he thinks he will not be forgiven," Ochora says in an interview.
It is this lack of trust that many people think is preventing the LRA leader from signing the peace agreement. Kony wont easily surrender to put his destiny in the hands of president Museveni, his enemy for over 20 years and the International community when he is always suspicious and doesn't trust even the people closest to him.
Recent media reports say that Kony has killed his deputy Okot Odhiambo less than a year after killing his other deputy Vicent Otti. Earlier on Kony allegedly killed Otti Lagony, whom Otti succeeded and James Opoka.
This lack of trust can be reflected in the fact that Kony, in less than one year has sacked two of chief mediators Martin Ojul and recently David Nyeorach Matsanga whom, Kony accused of collaborating with the government.
Nobody seems able to assure Kony of his safety. Archbishop Bishop John Baptist Odama and the cultural leader of the Acholi, Rwot Achana have on several occasions met and assured Kony and other LRA leaders of safety if they give up armed rebellion. But the two leaders who are still holed up in Garamba forest with UN officials and other cultural leaders from northern Uganda must be struggling to keep hope in Kony's ability to sign the peace deal and freely return to and leave peacefully in Uganda.
Although he believes that Kony should still be given the benefit of a doubt, Aswa County MP Reagan Okumu has appealed to government to protect lives and property of people in northern Uganda following the failed signing of the peace agreement. Okumu says that people are going back home from the IDP camps and there is no retreat to the camps.
Okumu says that if Kony refuses to sign, then let him be dealt with by the ICC or a regional war crimes tribunal instead of a Ugandan court.
He says that the Ugandan justice system would not favor Kony because it is already biased about the rebel leader. He called upon all stakeholders involved in the peace talks to continue pushing for the signing of the agreement so that peace is completely restored in Uganda, especially the Northern region.
What the future holds for the peace in Northern Uganda
While briefing MP's on April 15, the head of the government peace team Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda said that even though the peace talks fail, Kony will never destabilize Uganda again.
Garamba forest where Kony's rebel army is, is thousands of kilometers far away from Uganda and it might take LRA forces days to walk for an attack in Uganda, this makes it difficult for Kony to launch a meaningful attack on Northern Uganda.
He said whether the agreement is signed or not, the future for peace in Northern Uganda looks bright now that peace has returned to South Sudan where Kony is weakened because the SPLA forces can no longer allow him to roam freely in South Sudan where he used to reorganize his forces and attack his fellow kinsmen of Northern Uganda.
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First published: April 19, 2008