UGANDA: War-mongering against LRA 'ill-advised', warns northern leader
KAMPALA, 9 June 2008 (IRIN) - The northern Uganda peace process should still be given a chance despite signals that talks between the government and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) have virtually collapsed, a key political leader in the region said.
"Our view is that until the chief mediator [Southern Sudan Vice President Riek Machar] comes up to declare the talks dead, and until they get a report from the Secession of Hostilities Monitoring Committee, war-mongering is ill-advised," said Norbert Mao, chairman of Gulu District, which was the epicentre of decades of conflict.
Mao, one of the northern leaders who has been at the centre of talks to end fighting between the Ugandan government and the LRA, urged both parties to restrain themselves and give the peace process a chance. Hundreds of thousands of displaced northerners, taking advantage of relative peace in the region since talks began in 2007, have returned to their homes from camps.
Addressing the Ugandan parliament on 5 June, President Yoweri Museveni said his army was ready to flush the LRA out of its bases in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) if the Congolese government and the UN gave his country the go-ahead.
"I can assure all of you Ugandans that [LRA leader Joseph] Kony cannot disturb the peace in northern Uganda given the nature of professionalism of the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF). We now have sophisticated equipment and are ready to respond,” the president said.
“Since Kony is in Congo, it is now the responsibility of [DRC President Joseph] Kabila and the UN to call on us,” he told the legislators. “In case Congo asks for our assistance, we are ready and prepared to go and destroy him."
Mao said leaders in northern Uganda feared that "trigger-happy elements in the Ugandan government have had the upper-hand” but this would not help build peace here. “For sure the majority of the fighters in the LRA want to come back home, but the ICC [International Criminal Court] warrants against their leaders are keeping them hostage,” he told IRIN on 9 June. “The ICC is not helping Uganda at all.”
The Rome-based court has prepared charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and indicted five top LRA leaders. But the charges have become a sticking point in the peace talks, with LRA leaders demanding that they be dropped before their fighters can renounce war.
“Our view in northern Uganda is that the [UN] Security Council should suspend the indictments and see how the alternative justice works. We are sure this will reassure the LRA to further pursue the peace process. The Rome Statute allows that," Mao, who is also a lawyer, explained, referring to the instrument that sets out the ICC’s rules of procedure.
The situation has, however, been complicated by reports that the LRA killed 21 people including women and children as well as fighters of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), in an attack in Southern Sudan on 5 June. Uganda government spokesman Capt. Chris Magezi said the LRA attacked the SPLA and civilians in Nabanga, near the Sudan-DRC border, where LRA fighters were expected to assemble if the talks had succeeded.
"The attack was near the assembly area and 21 people including women, children and SPLA fighters were killed," he said.
He denied reports that the attack followed another jointly carried out by the SPLA and the Ugandan army on the LRA bases. "The LRA has been making that accusation but they are just trying to cover up many things they have been doing lately,” he added. “Our nearest position is over 1,000 km away in Koboko [northwestern Uganda]."
Echoing Museveni’s call, he added: “The UPDF is ready to help in jointly fighting the LRA through sharing intelligence with both the SPLA and the Congolese army. Should they also need our active participation, we are also ready.”
But the government chief negotiator and interior minister Ruhakana Rugunda who had just met the UN envoy to the region, former Mozambican president Joachim Chissano, said that the government was still committed to the peace process and that it awaited a report from the mediators to make "a proper assessment of the process and decide the way forward”.
“In any case negotiations were completed and what remained was appending signatures on the final agreement," he said.
Theme(s): (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Refugees/IDPs
Copyright © IRIN 2008
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