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UGANDA: Government to focus on rebuilding the north

KAMPALA, 10 April 2008 (IRIN) - The Ugandan government will concentrate on rehabilitating the war-ravaged north of the country, it said before the anticipated signing of a peace agreement with the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA).

"Rehabilitation of the region is now high on the agenda," David Wakikona, Minister for Northern Uganda, said on 10 April. "Thirty percent of the US$606 million rehabilitation package will be provided by the government in the next financial year that starts in July."

Peace talks between the Ugandan government and the LRA were close to achieving a final settlement, with the elusive rebel leader Joseph Kony expected to put pen to paper on 10 April. However, the signing had not been confirmed by late on Thursday.

The agreement, expected to be signed in Ri-Kwangba, near the Southern Sudan border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), would formally end more than two decades of a war that has killed thousands of people and displaced over a million.

"I can confirm that everything has been finalised for the signing of the agreement in Ri-Kwangba. Kony will sign himself and leave the other part to the Ugandan government," the LRA’s chief negotiator, David Nyekorach-Matsanga, told IRIN.

President Yoweri Museveni is expected to sign the agreement on 14 April in the Southern Sudanese capital of Juba, Ugandan state minister for defence Ruth Nankabirwa said.

Matsanga, however, said the rebels would not disarm until warrants issued against them by the International Criminal Court were suspended.

"It is the government of Uganda that took the case to the ICC and we expect it to go to the Security Council for the suspension of the indictments," he said.

During the lengthy on-off talks, the LRA often repeated its demand for the withdrawal of the ICC arrest warrants before a final agreement could be signed.

Northern Ugandan leaders were upbeat about the anticipated signing of the accord. "The signing holds the future, the stability and security of the people in northern Uganda. It will mark a new era and close a bloody past," said Monsignor Matthew Odongo, the vicar general of Gulu diocese.

Earlier, the Gulu Catholic Archdiocese head, Archbishop John Baptist Odama, said: "This agreement is very important to the people here and they have waited for [a] long [time]."

More than 20 years of war, destruction and displacement have turned northern Ugandan into a humanitarian disaster.

According to the Ugandan government, the LRA has abducted tens of thousands of civilians, many of whom have been forced to maim and kill their victims.

In October 2005, the ICC unsealed arrest warrants against Kony and four of his top commanders for crimes against humanity and war crimes.

However, a significant shift in the war occurred in late 2006 when the LRA withdrew its forces from northern Uganda to the Southern Sudanese state of Eastern Equatoria and then crossed the Nile, assembling in Garamba National Park in the DRC.

Peace talks between the government and the rebel force commenced in Juba under the mediation of the Vice-President of South Sudan, Riek Machar, and a first cessation of hostilities agreement was signed on 26 August 2006.

The two parties have since signed another agreement setting out general principles on how to deal with accountability and reconciliation in northern Uganda.

The agreement provides that the Ugandan government will exercise jurisdiction over individuals who allegedly “bear particular responsibility” for the most serious crimes committed during the conflict. It also provides for “alternative penalties” for serious crimes committed by the LRA.

With the withdrawal of the LRA to the DRC, security in northern Uganda has improved considerably. Some displacement-camp residents have moved to new settlement sites closer to their villages while others have returned to their homes.

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Theme(s): (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Economy, (IRIN) Governance, (IRIN) Health & Nutrition, (IRIN) Refugees/IDPs

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Copyright © IRIN 2008
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.
IRIN is a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.



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