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Ugandan President Questions Rebel's Peace Commitment

By Derek Kilner
21 December 2007

Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni has said the leader of the rebel Lords Resistance Army is "not ready" for a peace agreement. As Derek Kilner reports for VOA's East Africa bureau in Nairobi, Museveni has threatened military action if the rebels do not agree to a peace deal by the end of January.

In a statement released by his office, President Museveni accused Josephy Kony, the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), of killing his deputy, Vincent Otti.

Speculation about Otti's death has been circulating since October, though LRA officials have denied it. Otti is seen by many as having been the leading force within the LRA pushing for cooperation in the peace process.

President Museveni has also threatened to launch a new military operation against the rebels if a peace deal is not reached by January 31. Uganda has been discussing plans for a military attack with defense officials from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Kony is currently based in eastern Congo.

In addition to raising doubts about Kony's commitment to the peace effort, the disarray within the LRA, including Kony's alleged death and a string of defections by rebels, may have made a military solution look more appealing to the President.

Manasseh Wepundi, senior analyst with the Africa Policy Institute, also tells VOA that recent discussions with neighboring countries in Ethiopia on a coordinated response to armed groups operating in the Great Lakes region may have impacted Museveni's thinking.

"With the meeting that was held in Addis Ababa involving the leaders of the Great Lakes including Museveni, and Rwanda, and DRC, the Great Lakes States have developed more consensus on the need to address joint security concerns," he noted. "The regional environment is changing very drastically in favor of President Museveni. That is a boost to his confidence about a military solution to the entire conflict."

An LRA delegation that was touring Uganda in an attempt to promote reconciliation recently left for Southern Sudan, where the peace talks have been located.

Wepundi says that the mission was an important symbolic move, but was overshadowed by persistent questions about Otti's fate.

"While the delegation was moving around northern Uganda talking about reconciliation talking about forgiveness, on the other hand people were worried about whether the talks were collapsing with the alleged death of Vincent Otti," he added. "So I would say it would have been much more successful had there been no doubts about the LRA unity and commitment to the peace process."

Peace talks are scheduled to resume in Juba in the second week of January.

The 20-year conflict in Northern Uganda has killed tens of thousands and displaced close to two million people.

The International Criminal Court is pressing for the arrest of Kony and his top deputies on charges of war crimes, including the widespread recruitment of child soldiers. The LRA has called for the charges to be dropped before any peace deal is signed.

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