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Uganda Rebel Negotiators Quit, Further Jeopardizing Peace Talks

By Derek Kilner
27 June 2008

Eight members of the negotiating team for the Lord's Resistance Army rebel group have resigned. The negotiators said the group's leader, Joseph Kony was frustrating efforts to pursue peace talks with the Ugandan government. Derek Kilner reports for VOA's East Africa bureau in Nairobi.

For the past two years, representatives of the Lord's Resistance Army, or LRA, have been in negotiations with the Ugandan government to end a two-decade-long conflict centered in northern Uganda. In April, the two sides reached an agreement, but the LRA's elusive leader Joseph Kony failed to turn up for the signing ceremony on the border between Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Kony has demanded that arrest warrants issued in 2005 by the International Criminal Court for him and his top deputies be lifted before he lays down his arms. The court wants to prosecute Kony for charges of rape, amputations, and forced recruitment of children during the conflict, which killed tens of thousands and displaced some two million.

Following Kony's refusal to sign the agreement, countries in the region agreed to launch a joint military operation against the LRA, with troops from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and logistical support from Uganda, southern Sudan, and the U.N.'s peacekeeping mission in the Congo. In recent years the LRA has shifted its main areas of activity from northern Uganda to southern Sudan, eastern Congo and the Central African Republic.

Earlier this week, Kony raised hopes that the peace process could continue when he affirmed his commitment to the talks in a rare phone interview with Radio France International. But the resignation of the eight negotiators - two thirds of the mediation team - casts renewed doubt on the prospects of the negotiations.

Ugandan military spokesman Paddy Ankunda says he hopes Kony can be persuaded to sign the agreement reached in April. But he ruled out further negotiation on the contents of the deal.

"We hope whoever will stay will tell Joseph Kony to turn up and sign the already drafted agreement," he said. "We are not going back to the process. Because we already have an agreement which he simply snubbed and has refused to sign."

Throughout the peace process, the relationship and the level of communication between Kony and his negotiators has been unclear, raising questions about Kony's commitment to the talks.

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