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Government Dismisses LRA Power-Sharing Bid

Official negotiators say it is far too early for northern Uganda’s rebels to be asking for a role in government.
By Samuel Okiror
Ugandan officials have dismissed suggestions that Lord's Resistance Army rebel leaders should be awarded posts in government once a peace deal is signed to bring a final end to two decades of conflict in the north of the country, saying the claim is premature and unworkable.

Speaking to IWPR by satellite phone, Vincent Otti, deputy leader of the Lord's Resistance Army, LRA, said a power-sharing deal should be part of a final peace settlement. He said the LRA leadership had come up with a wish-list of posts including that of vice-president and certain key ministers.

“After the signing of the comprehensive peace agreement, we would want to share power with the current regime, because all along we have been fighting to capture power,” said Otti.

Otti was speaking from the heart of the 5,000 square kilometre Garamba National Park in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, to which the LRA shifted in 2004 from its former bases in South Sudan.

“Once agreement is reached, we have to agree which positions we shall be taking over. I am fighting for an office and I expect to get one. I am sure it will happen,” he said. “We have to come to a good compromise. We should share power."

The LRA is currently engaged in a peace process with the Kampala government, hosted and mediated by the autonomous administration of South Sudan.

The talks have encountered a number of hitches since they began last year. The latest hold-up, caused by problems with finding the travel costs for the LRA delegation to attend negotiations in the South Sudan capital Juba, now appears to have been resolved, and the talks adjourned in late June are scheduled to begin again in mid-September.

Otti argues that power-sharing is justified as a solution because neither side has gained the upper hand in two decades of conflict.

“You know, peace talks normally come when the two parties fail on what they were doing," he said. "In this case, the government failed to totally finish us and we also failed to capture power, and now the peace talks come and the issue is what do you want us to do? And the answer is sharing power.”

The negotiations are widely seen as the best chance of ending the 21-year civil war in northern Uganda that has resulted in the deaths of more than 100,000 people, the displacement of more than 1.7 million from their homes, and the abduction of some 38,000 children by the LRA to serve as guerrilla fighters, porters and sex slaves.

So far, provisional agreements have been signed on three of the five points on the agenda, which cover matters such as the cessation of hostilities and, more controversially, arrangements for accountability and reconciliation which suggest that traditional justice methods might offer an alternative to formal prosecution of LRA leaders for war crimes.

The International Criminal Court in The Hague has outstanding arrest warrants for Kony, Otti and senior commanders Okot Odhiambo and Dominic Ongwen, on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity that include murder, rape, terrorising civilians, abduction, sexual enslavement, mutilation, rape and the forcible use of children as guerrilla fighters.

Although it was Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni who invited the ICC to start investigating northern Uganda, he has since shifted position and indicated that a successful peace deal would offer a "soft landing" for rebel leaders, hinting that in such an eventuality his government might seek to get the ICC charges dropped.

However, the LRA’s demand for political power goes significantly further than anything that Kampala is offering.

Government officials involved in the peace process have rejected Otti’s proposal, saying that apart from anything else, Uganda’s constitutional system makes it impossible to catapult an unelected political group into power.

“It can’t be possible to have a power sharing agreement with the LRA because the existing laws and constitution don’t have provision for it,” said Stephen Kagoda, acting head of the government delegation to the Juba talks.

Kagoda said that if the LRA wants political power, its leaders should first sign a peace deal and then return home, where they will be free to register a political party and compete in future elections.

“People like Otti should remember that we are in a multi-party dispensation. Power belongs to the people. It’s through a ballot box,” he said.

The spokesman for the government delegation, Captain Bahoku Barigye, said the rebels should be focusing their minds on discussing the framework for peace instead of wasting time on an issue which is out of the question at this stage.

“We can’t discuss this issue of power sharing now. There is an elected government in place. What we are discussing now is a framework to bring back peace in northern Uganda, and that is what they and all of us should concentrate on,” he said. "The question of power-sharing can be discussed at a future, appropriate stage."

Otti told IWPR that the LRA will consider whether to form a political party shortly before the presidential, parliamentary and local council elections scheduled for 2011.

Samuel Okiror Egadu is an IWPR contributor in Uganda currently reporting on international justice issues in The Hague.

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