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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
09 February 2007

UGANDA: Fresh rebel demands on talks unacceptable - Museveni

GULU, 9 Feb 2007 (IRIN) - Talks between the Ugandan government and the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), taking place in the southern Sudanese capital of Juba, have hit a snag. In an interview in the town of Gulu, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni rejected fresh demands by the rebels and defended the existence of camps for displaced people in the north. He also talked about Uganda’s decision to send peacekeepers to Somalia and domestic issues. Below are excerpts:

QUESTION: In northern Uganda, people are most interested in how you will re-start the peace talks with the rebels.

ANSWER: Kony [Joseph, leader of the LRA] would have to come back to Juba. The idea of going to a new site with a new mediator is not acceptable - because it is just designed to avoid reaching a solution. A new mediator will have to learn about the issues, because these issues are not all that well known by outsiders. So to bring in a new mediator means a new learning process for the mediator, and that we cannot accept.

Q: Would you be happy to see Kony tried by the International Criminal Court?

A: That is the plan, he would be tried – unless he takes advantage of the peace process. If he comes out [of hiding] then it would not be morally correct for us to insist on him being tried by the ICC. We would have to use alternative justice; the traditional tribal system. It is in his interests to really follow peace, and use the peace to extricate himself from the problems he created for himself.

Q: Do you believe he has external support?

A: Yes, there is some little support, but it makes no difference. There is no support that can stop us getting him - if the [Democratic Republic of] Congo government allows us to follow him [to his hiding-place]. It makes not much difference as far as I am concerned. The support he should be denied is a safe haven, to be given a place to stay. If someone gives him material support, it won’t change much.

Q: It is 20 years since the rebellion started in northern Uganda, and there has been no military solution.

A: Those 20 years we have not been fighting Kony, we have been fighting Sudan. This was an inter-state war, if you like, involving Sudan, [DR] Congo, Zimbabwe, Angola. It was a regional conflict – but elements of that conflict have now been resolved. The problem between northern and southern Sudan; they have a solution - the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, between north and south. The situation has not been stagnant. It was much bigger; it is now smaller. And portions of the problems have been solved.

Q: How optimistic do you feel about a solution in the north? Do you think, for example, the return process of the internally displaced is irreversible?

A: Yes. The return back home is irreversible irrespective of what happens with the peace talks. This is because the army is now more capable, stronger. We have spent more money on the army since 2002. The army will guarantee the safety of the people.

Q: And when you see what has happened to people – lack of access to fields, confinement, social breakdown, impoverishment – do you regret the policy of encampment at all?

A: Not at all. You see, living in camps was the second-best arrangement other than living in their own homes. If they had stayed in their own homes, many would have been killed or abducted; and abducted may actually have meant being killed. When you have been abducted, in the process of exchange between the army and the terrorists, people die. Keeping people out of the way for that period was the second-best solution.

Q: In terms of the domestic issues you have to deal with, is it wise to get involved in Somalia?

A: The Somalia issue is not that difficult in my opinion. It is the collapse of the state of Somalia. Now that the Somalis have consensus, they should be helped to rebuild their state. Our going to Somalia will not be to do work for Somalis, but to enable them to do their work – rebuild their state, rebuild their army in particular, train the new army. And that is all. This can be done, we’ve done it before; it is not such a big problem.

Q: What exactly have you offered the African Union?

A: Soldiers – to provide insurance against any attempt to overthrow the government. And number two, to train the Somalis. It is a catalyst force, not the one to do the work. The problem with western countries is they try to act on behalf of the people, that is where their programmes get into problems. But if you come to empower the people to do their own thing, it is easier – that’s what we did with the Tanzanians in 1978-1979 against Idi Amin. The Tanzanians empowered us, and then they left. Thereafter we did our own thing.

Q: After the Ethiopian invasion and the US bombardment, there is a power vacuum and no peace to keep. Is it a problem sending in peace-keeping troops when there no peace to keep?

A: That concept of peace-keeping is a western concept. It is just a part of the UN [United Nations]-ism. There is a problem called UN-ism, which is simply loitering around the globe with no solutions, adding to the problems. The issue there is peace-building. We are not going to keep the peace, because we are not supposed to be bringing the peace. That’s opportunistic – how can you say, I will not come in until there is peace, and I will come to keep the peace! Who will get the peace? It should be part of peace-building. That is what we did in many of the situations - in Uganda with Idi Amin; in Rwanda with the genocidaires, we empowered the RPF [Rwanda Patriotic Front], then they were able to stop the genocide. In our fight with Sudan – we empowered those who wanted peace in Sudan, and a solution. So in Somalia it’s the same thing – it is not ‘peace-keeping’, it is peace-building. And peace-building is helping the Somalis to empower themselves, on the one hand, and on the other to be as inclusive as possible. After a little while, maybe two, three years – I don’t know what they’ve agreed – go for elections, give back sovereignty to the people. So it is peace-building, not peace-keeping. That is UN-ism; we are not part of the UN confusion.

Q: The African Union is aiming to recruit 8,000 troops – if they are not able to raise that number, would you still send in the Ugandan unit?

A: Yes, because what the Somalis need is someone to train them, that is all.

Q: But there have been death threats against the peacekeepers …

A: That is no problem – we are used to those so-called Jihadis … because we had [Hassan al] Turabi [a prominent Sudanese Islamist politician] here on our border, he was using that language – ‘Jihad’. We are black people, this is a black continent - our continent. You cannot bring that Middle Eastern nonsense here. We are not going to accept it. If you bring Jihad, we’ll bring back Black Jihad to you. These are Somali people. They are all Muslims. So Jihad to do what now? [Somalis] have a temporary government now. Restore a normal life; then go for elections, after a little while. So, Jihad against whom?

Q: Since coming to power in 1986, patterns of conflict and change have changed a great deal in the region – you could say the old-style liberation movements have disappeared …

A: Liberation did not disappear; it’s triumphed! We defeated the racists, we won!

Q: But recently you said your own party, the National Resistance Movement (NRM), was in an unhealthy state. What did you mean by that?

A: No, this was just an internal discussion, criticising our weaknesses – some of the actors are not sticking to the altruism of the resistance days. It is just internal rectifications, nothing serious. There are always tendencies among people … even when we were fighting, we had people who were cowards, people who were selfish. It is like in a church. Every Sunday you go to church so that you confess your sins, so that you maintain your relationship with God. We must rectify our weaknesses in relation to the people; because if we are selfish, we are egotistical, and we lose the altruism, which was one of the main characteristics. Then we get detached from the people - that is what we were talking about.

Q: Will you stand in the next general election?

A: People who stand in Uganda are decided by the political parties. So our party, the NRM, will decide who will stand. It is not my job to usurp the power of the national conference – of deciding who will stand, whether it will be Museveni. I would in that case be substituting myself for the national conference.

Q: When you were talking to the villagers, you were telling them to use democracy wisely. But at the moment, with the opposition People’s Redemption Army (PRA) detainees, the military has over-ridden the constitution and the judiciary. Why?

A: That’s not true. The original mistake was made by a judge … who ruled that bail was an automatic right. That was very wrong, because in Uganda we have suffered so much from law-breakers – especially in respect of extra-judicial killings. How can you say that someone who kills people automatically qualifies for bail? The government appealed to the constitutional court; [which] eventually ruled and said no, bail is not an automatic response. It is optional. Because of the mistake of the first judge, these people were given bail on the grounds that bail is an automatic right. The army tried to oppose this, and also the Director of Public Prosecutions, who is a civilian. The problem they had was, if you release these accused terrorists – they go to eastern Congo. And in eastern Congo there is no government.

So what do we do? How do we maintain law and order – arrest someone, he’s released by the courts, he runs away. The army was trying to fumble, in order to cope with the mistake of the judge, but fortunately the higher court sorted it out. That’s where we are now. A country like Uganda, where people have suffered so much from killers; impunity should not be tolerated. Giving automatic bail to killers, or those who are planning to kill, is aiding and abetting impunity.

Q: When I talked to people in the north here, and asked, if you were to ask President Museveni a question, what would it be; they said, where are the iron sheets …?

A: Oh the iron sheets! The iron sheets are here, at the district headquarters – there are not enough to cover all the houses at the same time, but they are there. And the plan is that once you put up the walls made of bricks, then we give you … the local leaders give you the iron sheets. But you must put up the walls.

Q: Because we’ve seen people putting up walls and waiting for the iron sheets.

A: Fine! They shall come. Because in the case of the sub-county of Abako [just visited], they told me that 65 houses had been put up. I was quite happy.



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