Seeking the Ears of Peace
President Museveni addresses cabinet at ministers retreat.

Seeking the Ears of Peace

Is Museveni's government willing or able to talk peace with the LRA?

By Gerald Rulekere
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First published: June 13, 2006

Efforts to mediate a peaceful settlement of the 20 year war between the Uganda government and the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) appear to be hitting a snag, following the declaration by the International Criminal Court (ICC) that Sudan had agreed to voluntarily "execute the warrant of arrest" against LRA leader Joseph Kony and 4 other top LRA combatants.

It is still not clear whether the government of President Yoweri Museveni is still willing to engage in the peace talks as most government officials are refusing knowledge of any possible peace deal between the government and the LRA.

"Nobody can meet with those who are indicted," Okello Oryem, Uganda's junior foreign minister said today. "As far as we are concerned, the LRA is a regional problem now - not a Uganda problem. Those countries in which they hide, namely South Sudan and the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo), have a responsibility to act along with the UN forces (in Sudan). They should be sincere and serious about doing what is necessary according to the ICC," he added, suggesting the LRA leaders be arrested. South Sudan vice-president Riek Machar has been trying to arrange talks between the Ugandan government and the LRA, led by Joseph Kony.

The ICC chief Prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo said in a statement yesterday that the ICC was against a negotiated political deal, saying Kony was simply trying to "buy time" like he had done in the past. He said it was important to bring the rebel leaders to justice for the atrocities they had committed against innocent people during the 20-year conflict.

"In the past, he has used negotiations to buy time and regroup. To do justice and re-establish security in the region, the justice network has to arrest the LRA commanders," Ocampo said.

He said escalating international and regional pressure against the LRA was bearing fruit, forcing the LRA to flee their safe havens to Northern DRC, with the result that attacks in Northern Uganda had "declined dramatically."

He said Kony's stay in the DRC "was endangering people in the region." Just a week ago, the International Police joined the hunt for Kony and his four commanders by issuing red (wanted persons) notices in 184 countries including the Sudan. The rebel leader said in video footage last month that he was willing to engage the government in talks to end two decades of violence that has claimed the lives of thousands of civilians and displaced close to two million people in northern Uganda. The International Police Organisation (Interpol) has issued wanted-persons notices against Kony and four other LRA commanders on behalf of the ICC, which last year indicted the five men on 12 counts of crimes against humanity and 21 counts of war crimes.

The other suspects are Kony's deputy, Vincent Otti, and commanders Raska Lukwiya, Okot Odhiambo and Dominic Ongwen, who has since died. The five are also accused of intentionally directing an attack against civilians. An LRA delegation arrived in Juba, the capital of southern Sudan, last week ready to start talks, but the Ugandan government did not send a team.

"We cannot have a head-to-head meeting with the indicted LRA commanders. We would have to arrest them immediately," said minister Oryem. This is despite the fact that President Yoweri Museveni assured the country last month and last Thursday that the government was committed to talking peace with the rebels.

Former External Security Organisation (ESO) chief David Pulkol was among the latest national figures to put his foot on the road for a peaceful resolution as he is reportedly in Juba, Southern Sudan where he met "indirectly" with the LRA.

Pulkol who heads a new NGO, Africa Leadership Institute (AFLI), which offers consultancy, among others, on security and governance, met Sudan's Vice-President Salva Kiir and South Sudan vice-president Dr. Riak Machar before the arrival of the five-man LRA delegation and there are strongly held suspicions in the country that Pulkol is dealing on behalf of the Uganda government, though he fell out with President Museveni.

Government sources would not confirm if Pulkol had been sent to Juba by President Yoweri Museveni, who last Thursday said he was not opposed to the negotiations though some of the rebels are wanted for war crimes.

Mediator Machar told London-based Al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper that Juba would host this week's talks between LRA and the Government, under Sudanese-international sponsorship.

He said, "The talks begin upon the arrival of the delegation of the Ugandan government, in the presence of international parties, led by Switzerland, Italy, and Norway." He said some other European countries supported his initiative to end the war.

But Uganda's ambassador in Khartoum, Mull Katende, denied a report in Juba Post that he was due to arrive in Juba to represent Uganda at the talks.

"I have no contact with Juba and I am only hearing reports from the press," Katende told Khartoum Monitor. "I have not been approached and there is no link between us."

Juba Post quoted Machar as saying Katende would go to Juba soon to finalise preparations for the talks.

Similarly, Uganda's consul to Juba Busho Ndinyenka said, "I know nothing about the Juba talks."

But embassy officials said Pulkol was in touch with the LRA delegation.

Kiir told The Sudan Tribune: "What we want is peace and peace has to be negotiated. I don't want the LRA to remain in southern Sudan. They have been raping women and girls. They have been killing. They have been looting. They have been abducting." He said the opening of the peace talks was a matter of days, even hours.

The Ugandan government has expressed skepticism southern Sudanese mediators would be successful, given the rebels' history of rejecting peace efforts.

The Head of the government Uganda Media Center says the LRA are only interested in reaching a peace deal with Southern Sudan and not the Uganda government. He says that Southern Sudan is also looking at protecting their own interests since the LRA has become a threat to the southern part which is facing a rare glimmer of peaceful hope after decades of war.

Security minister Amama Mbabazi last week ruled out amnesty for Joseph Kony and his four top commanders wanted for war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

He said besides the ICC indictment, the Ugandan law makes amnesty for Kony and his top four commanders impossible.

But a top Amnesty Commission Official in charge of West Nile region in northern Uganda, Commissioner Ganyana Miiro said last week that the Uganda Amnesty Commission would give amnesty to Kony if he seriously decided to give up armed rebellion in order to save civilians from continued attacks and ensure abducted rebels, including children who are still in the bush return home.

Once again an uncertain road to a peaceful settlement of the conflict in northern Uganda will leave many citizens in the northern part wishing for mercy amid many human made impossibilities and calamities that have dictated disaster to the lives of many people in the northern Uganda region.

By Gerald Rulekere
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First published: June 13, 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.