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UGANDA: Stalled peace talks to resume in April - minister

KAMPALA, 23 March 2007 (IRIN) - Peace talks between the Ugandan government and the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) will resume in mid-April in the southern Sudanese capital of Juba, a senior government official said on Friday.

"We have been consulting through former [Mozambican] President Joaquim Chissano and we have agreed to have a meeting within the first two weeks of April," Ugandan internal affairs minister Ruhakana Rugunda told a news conference in the capital, Kampala.

"A tentative date of 13 April has been agreed upon," he added. Chissano is the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the areas affected by the LRA insurgency.

The on-off talks, which are intended to end the 21-year-old war in northern Uganda, started in July under the mediation of southern Sudanese Vice-President Riek Machar. But a stalemate arose after the rebels demanded a new venue and another mediator, saying they feared for their lives in Juba and that the mediator was biased.

"We shall have preliminary discussions before the real negotiations start and one of the issues we shall handle first is the formal extension of the cessation of hostility agreement," Rugunda added.

The agreement, which was signed in August and renewed in December, expired in February. It had raised hopes of a possible end to a conflict that has killed tens of thousands of civilians and displaced two million more.

Rugunda said Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir would continue hosting the talks in Sudan but had demanded a time limit for the talks.

"He [El-Bashir] said the talks should not be open-ended; there must be a timeframe because this will be one way to make progress and get the talks to move faster," he said.

Observers say the talks have been slow to take off because the LRA leader, Joseph Kony, and three other commanders, including his deputy, Vincent Otti, have been indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

In New York, the UN Security Council urged the rebels to immediately release all women, children and other non-combatants in their captivity. The LRA is believed to have kidnapped at least 25,000 children to fight in its ranks or serve as sex slaves to its commanders.

The conflict started in 1988, when Kony took charge of a two-year-old regional rebellion against the Ugandan government, sparking what aid groups have described as the world's most neglected conflict.

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Copyright © IRIN 2007
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
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