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Ugandan Officials in Sudan to Discuss Proposed Peace Talks with Rebels

03 July 2006

A Uganda government delegation has flown into southern Sudan to discuss an offer of peace talks from the rebel Lords Resistance Army, which has waged a 20-year war against the Ugandan government.

The Ugandan delegation flew into the city of Juba to meet with Sudanese Vice President Salva Kiir, who has offered to act as mediator between the Ugandan government and the Lords Resistance Army, or LRA.

The LRA has been fighting a brutal guerrilla war in the north of Uganda since 1988. The conflict has spread into the Democratic Republic of Congo and southern Sudan.

Nearly two decades of fighting have resulted in the displacement of nearly two million people, the killing of tens-of-thousands. And, more than 30,000 children have been abducted and forced to serve as child soldiers or sex slaves.

Ugandan government spokesmen Robert Kabushenga has stressed that these talks about starting formal peace talks are very preliminary.

"Our team is basically a consultative team," he said. "It's going to meet with Vice President Salva Kiir of Sudan to get a briefing on the peace initiative. Then, on the basis of that they will return home, advise the government on how to go forward with the peace process. It's not yet the peace delegation that's supposed to meet the LRA. They are going to meet with officials of southern Sudanese government."

Okello Oryem, Uganda's international relations minister, who is leading the government delegation, has told local media, if initial consultations are successful, a stronger team would join the negotiations.

The International Criminal Court, which has issued warrants for the arrest of leading LRA members, is against the peace talks.

But human rights groups say peace is more important then justice. Stephen Okello is a spokesman for the non-profit group, the Uganda Conflict Action Network.

"The underlying cause is ethnic. It needs a political solution," he said. "By having the LRA indicted by the ICC is not going to help anyone. The issue is not getting punishment for the LRA, the issue is healing the wounds of division in Uganda between the South and the North."

The Ugandan government and the Lords Resistance Army have met for peace talks many times in the past, but have always failed to come to an agreement, with each side accusing the other of lacking commitment to peace.

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