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UGANDA-SUDAN: Two-track strategy the best option to ending LRA rebellion - ICG

NAIROBI, 26 September 2007 (IRIN) - A two-track strategy - strengthening the peace negotiations between the government and the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) and long-term redevelopment of northern Uganda - is the best approach to ending the decades-long conflict, the International Crisis Group (ICG) has said.

In its latest report, Northern Uganda's Peace Process: The Need to Maintain Momentum, the organisation said the talks between the Ugandan government and the LRA being held in Juba, the capital of Southern Sudan, were moving in the right direction but core issues, such as justice, security and livelihoods, remained unresolved and required "difficult" decisions.

"Addressing the LRA leaders' core security and livelihood concerns is key to peace, but direct engagement with their leaders, Joseph Kony and Vincent Otti, is needed," Adam O'Brien, an ICG analyst, said on 26 September in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital.

Kony, Otti and two other LRA leaders have been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges of war crimes for their roles in the LRA rebellion that has ravaged northern Uganda for 20 years.

In July, Otti said LRA fighters would remain in hiding even if a peace deal with the government were reached, unless the indictments against its leaders were lifted. He described the ICC as a stumbling block to peace in Uganda.

"Unless and only when the matter of the ICC is settled, none of our soldiers will get out of the bush and government should forget about any signature," Otti said.

International leverage

In its report, ICG called on the international community to increase leverage to push forward the peace negotiations and to "remain committed and ensure the parties reach an agreement that brings both peace and justice in northern Uganda".

O’Brien said: "The Juba peace process has matured in the last year and improved the lives of millions of civilians, both in northern Uganda and southern Sudan. But negotiating the remaining details and implementation requires more leverage, focus and discipline."

The talks began in July 2006, under the mediation of the Southern Sudanese Vice-President, Riek Machar, aimed at ending what has been termed one of Africa’s most brutal wars, which has displaced more than two million people. The talks have proceeded slowly, mostly due to mistrust between the parties, the ICC indictments and inadequate logistics.

This year, negotiations have picked up pace, increasing optimism that the war could be nearing an end.

O'Brien said that as part of the negotiations, LRA elements in Southern Sudan had moved to a hideout in the Democratic Republic of Congo, "thus increasing security for millions" in northern Uganda and Southern Sudan.

"But progress would not have occurred without international engagement, and if a final deal is to be concluded by year's end, more leverage is necessary to create incentives for further progress and disincentives for stalling or undermining a negotiated settlement," ICG said.

Redevelopment and justice

The ICG urged the international community, and in particular the UN Special Envoy to the peace process, Joaquim Chissano, to work closely with the Ugandan government to ensure its redevelopment programmes in the north were fully implemented “and contribute to building a sustainable peace in northern Uganda after Juba”.

The agency said a comprehensive justice framework demands prosecution of the LRA members and army commanders responsible for the greatest crimes as well as reconciliation and reintegration of ordinary rebels and a "truth-telling" compensation for victims.

"Donors and mediators must continue to close opportunities for those who seek to prolong the process indefinitely," ICG said. "While the LRA should continue to be given food on humanitarian grounds, distribution should be closely monitored to avoid being used for LRA rebuilding efforts."

The ICG report follows one published on 24 September by Oxfam, an international development agency, which revealed that northern Ugandans were feeling disconnected from Juba peace talks.

The Oxfam report, The building blocks of sustainable peace, found Ugandans' knowledge of the Juba peace talks to be “uniformly poor”, resulting in an increased feeling of marginalisation.

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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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