UGANDA: Fear grips north as truce pact lapses
KAMPALA, 28 February 2007 (IRIN) - A day before a ceasefire agreement between the government and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) was due to lapse with no sign of an extension, observers fear northern Uganda could again plunge into violence.
"The international community must insist that both parties take urgent and extraordinary measures to ensure a peaceful resolution," Save the Children said in a statement on Wednesday, noting that the majority of fighters within the LRA ranks were children.
The LRA announced in January it was pulling out of peace talks mediated by the government of south Sudan in the city of Juba, following comments by Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir that the group was no longer welcome on Sudanese territory. The LRA leadership demanded a ‘neutral venue’ for the talks, suggesting that Kenya or South Africa should mediate.
The cessation of hostilities agreement signed in August 2006 has largely held despite both sides questioning each other’s commitment. It obliged the rebels to assemble in two neutral places and required that government troops respect the truce.
The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Gulu, John-Baptist Odama, expressed optimism that the government and the rebels would consider the suffering of the people in the region and extend the truce and resume peace talks.
"In spite of the fact that the truce agreement is expiring tonight, there is still hope that both sides will consider the suffering people and renew it in order to stabilise the peace process," said Odama.
He appealed to the United Nations Secretary-General’s special envoy for northern Uganda, Joachim Chissano, to take up the issue of the lapsing ceasefire.
Cosmas Onen, who manages a shelter in Gulu town for children who leave their homes every night to seek shelter in urban areas, where they are less likely to be abducted by the LRA, said fear was apparent among the residents of Gulu, the area worst affected by the conflict that has lasted two decades, killed hundreds of thousands and displaced about 1.7 million.
"There is a fear that the war will resume and that is why only a few [internally displaced] people have returned to their homes despite a campaign by the authorities," he said.
"Everybody had hopes in the peace talks, but all the hope has been lost because the peace talks have become peace jokes," he added.
According to aid agencies, an estimated 230,000 internally displaced people in northern Ugandan returned to their villages in 2006 thanks to improved security with the start of talks between the government and the LRA. However, up to 1.2 million more remain in camps, while some have moved to satellite camps nearer their villages to gain access to their farms.
Copyright © IRIN 2007
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