UGANDA: Restarting talks would reassure displaced - local leaders
KAMPALA, 25 April 2007 (IRIN) - The resumption of talks between the Ugandan government and the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) could boost hopes that most internally displaced people in northern Uganda can safely return home, local leaders said.
"The collapse of the talks in December worried everybody, but the move to resume talks is seen as the best chance to end the suffering the people have endured," Archbishop John Baptist Odama of Gulu said on Wednesday.
The talks, which aim to end more than two decades of civil war in northern Uganda, are scheduled to resume on Thursday in the southern Sudanese capital of Juba.
According to Odama, uncertainty had reigned in northern Uganda since the talks hit a stalemate in December, after the rebels walked out, saying they had lost confidence in the mediators. They also demanded a new venue and a mediation team before they would return to the table.
"Both parties should return to the negotiation table with a degree of humility and a love for the country and the people who are suffering in the camps where children lack what other children have," the Archbishop added. "It is a responsibility of those negotiating to end that suffering."
The agreement to resume talks was reached after meetings with a United Nations envoy, former Mozambique President, Joaquim Chissano, Ugandan government officials and the LRA.
The Ugandan delegation spokesman Maj Felix Kulaije said his government team would try to conclude the parley "expeditiously".
Ayena Odongo, a lawyer based in Kampala, the Ugandan capital, and one of the LRA delegation, said: "Our concerns were addressed during the meeting with President Joaquim Chissano and we hope [the talks] will be smooth this time," he added.
More than a million people displaced by the war continue to live in camps where they mainly depend on relief agencies. Hundreds of thousands of others have, however, returned to their villages, after a lull in fighting in the past few months.
"The people here who have endured the suffering expect that this time the delegations will take the talks to a logical conclusion so that they can return to their homes," Odama said.
According to Ugandan officials, the next round of talks will address political solutions to the situation in northern Uganda and issues that include the development of the north.
The two sides will also handle accountability and justice, specifically the indictments of five LRA leaders, including Joseph Kony, by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. The rebels have demanded the indictments be withdrawn before they sign a final agreement.
Human Rights Watch (HRW), in a statement issued on Wednesday, argued that the negotiations should seek an outcome that ensured "fair and credible prosecutions for the most serious crimes".
Such prosecutions, it noted, along with broader accountability measures for lesser abuses, were crucial to achieving a sustainable peace in northern Uganda.
"Over the past two decades, the LRA leadership has been responsible for shocking crimes against civilians, while the Ugandan military forces have also been implicated in serious human rights abuses," said Richard Dicker, director of HRW's International Justice Program.
"Ensuring justice for the most serious crimes is critical to achieve the durable peace sought by the people of northern Uganda," he added. "The charges against LRA leaders are of the utmost gravity. National prosecutions would need to involve both fair trials and penalties that reflect the gravity of the crimes committed. Anything less would be justice denied."
The ICC was invited in December 2003 by the Ugandan government to investigate the LRA. In July 2005, it issued warrants of arrest for Kony, Vincent Otti, Okot Odhiambo, Raska Lukwiya and Dominic Ongwen for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Copyright © IRIN 2007
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