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Kabila Urged to Get LRA Out of DRC Peacefully

Community chiefs in northern Uganda concerned about consequences of violent expulsion of LRA from bases in Congolese national park.
By Joe Wacha
Local leaders in war-scarred northern Uganda are urging the president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, Joseph Kabila, to try to remove the Lords Resistance Army, LRA, rebels from their base in the Garamba National Park without resorting to violence.

The call, however, conflicts with a September 8 agreement in Arusha between Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni and Kabila according to which the DRC would undertake to flush out rebel forces, including the LRA, from Garamba, while Uganda would deny support for Congolese militias.

Cultural, religious and civic leaders in northern Uganda want and urgent meeting with Kabila to persuade him to disregard the agreement and use his influence and contacts to persuade the rebels to abandon the national park for Rikwangba inside Sudan where they are supposed to assemble, as part of the Cessation of Hostility Agreement signed between Kampala officials and LRA representatives in Juba, southern Sudan, on August 26 last year.

Shortly after the details of the Arusha pact were announced, the fiery LRA second-in-command, Vincent Otti, warned of a resumption of hostilities in northern Uganda should any force attack their bases in eastern DRC.

Otti, together with his boss, Joseph Kony, and three other rebel commanders, are wanted by the International Criminal Court, ICC, for war crimes committed during the two-decades-long conflict between the LRA and the Ugandan government.

The Arusha accord also provoked protests and criticism from many who argued that the outcome would derail the Juba negotiations.

Local leaders in northern Uganda say their intervention stems from concern about Kabila using force to get the LRA out of Garamba. Walter Ochora, the Resident District Commissioner of Gulu, in northern Uganda, said, “We are considering a request to President Yoweri Museveni to arrange for us a visit to President Joseph Kabila of the DRC. You are aware some LRA are still in the Congo and right now there is that controversy that they should be flushed out. ..but we think President Kabila could persuade the LRA to come out peacefully.”

In a separate development, civic, religious and cultural leaders in northern Uganda are set to hold talks with the Sudanese president Omar al- Bashir in Khartoum, with the aim of getting him to have a direct involvement in peace talks between the Kampala authorities and the LRA.

Led by David Acana II, the paramount chief of the Acholi tribe, which bore the brunt of the war in northern Uganda, the delegation is to comprise representatives of the Acholi region and three other areas affected by the fighting: Lango, Teso and West Nile.

The talks, which are supported by the Ugandan government, are scheduled to start on October 20 and last five days.

The visit comes amid concerns that the Sudanese authorities - longtime supporters of the LRA, providing them with weapons, training facilities and food provisions - may back a renewed insurgency, even if the peace talks succeed. These concerns have emerged because of Khartoum’s conspicuous silence over the Juba negotiations.

Ochora, one of the local leaders expected to make the trip to Khartoum, says the uncertainty over Sudan’s intentions is affecting the pace of the ongoing return and resettlement of people displaced by the conflict in northern Uganda – many of whom have spent years in squalid camps which they are reluctant to leave, because they are fearful of peace talks faltering.

“The big question the population is asking is, ‘Why is Khartoum quiet about this peace talks?’ So we shall ask Bashir to allay the fears of the people who think Khartoum may in future still support the LRA,” said Ochora.

He says reassuring words from Bashir about Sudan’s view of the Juba negotiations would provide much needed impetus for the return resettlement process.

“If it [Sudanese backing for the peace talks] comes from the horse’s own mouth it’s going to be very encouraging; you know the speed at which IDPs are going home is so slow because some have very little confidence in the talks succeeding,” said Ochora.

Meanwhile, Kampala is worried that an internal political crisis brewing in Sudan may jeopardise the Juba negotiations.

Tensions have been raised by the decision of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army, SPLA, to suspend its participation in the national unity government over what it sees are delays in the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in January 2005 between the late SPLA leader, John Garang, and Bashir.

The agreement that spells out power- and wealth-sharing arrangements is significant mainly for bringing to an end the bloody two-decades-long war between the predominant Arab north and the Christian south.

To ensure there is peace in the country hosting the peace talks between Kampala and the LRA, a team of Ugandan ministers led by Isanga Musumba, the minister for regional affairs, is also heading to Sudan to mediate in the disagreement between the SPLA and the Khartoum authorities.

The ministers are also expected to investigate reports that Ugandan traders in southern Sudan are being harassed.

Joe Wacha is an IWPR journalist in Uganda.