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Kony May Sign Peace Deal in Jungle

LRA negotiating team say their leader won’t come to Juba because of warrants for his arrest.
By Badru Mulumba
Ugandan officials and negotiators with the Lord’s Resistance Army say rebel chief Joseph Kony may sign a peace accord, but not in person at a ceremony set for April 5 in Juba, South Sudan.

Officials, however, said they were confident that Kony’s absence would not minimise the importance of the pact.

Once signed, the peace deal would end 21 years of an insurgency that ranks as one of Africa’s longest wars, which has claimed the lives of an estimated 100,000 people and displaced nearly two million.

After two years of walkouts and quarrels, the rebels the and Ugandan government decided this week to postpone the signing until April 5.

“This is the end of formal negotiations of the peace talks,” said chief mediator Riek Machar, the vice president of South Sudan, when announcing the new signing date. “This is the last day and night for formal negotiations.”

But many questions remain: will Kony come to Juba to sign the agreement?

“No,” said David Matsanga, the leader of the LRA negotiation team, who added, “[But] he will sign.”

Asked why Kony won’t come to Juba, Matsanga said, “ The warrants are on his head.”

Kony and two of his top commanders have been indicted by the International Criminal Court, ICC, in The Hague for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Kony has said consistently that he would not sign a peace deal unless the ICC removed the indictments against him.

“I think he is too scared to come,” said a western diplomat, witnessing the peace talks, who asked not to be identified.

“The signing will take place whether Kony is there or not. His representatives are there,” said Walter Ochora, the resident district commissioner from Gulu, which has been the focus of most of the insurgency. “What reason will they give not to sign?”

When asked if Kony would sign the agreement from the jungle, Matsanga replied, “Arrangements would be [made] there. The location would be found.”

Although Kony may fear arrest, he probably won’t be captured in South Sudan.

Although some disagree, it is generally thought that countries not party to the ICC have no obligation to handover the indicted persons to The Hague.

Sudan is not a member of the ICC and is resisting the ICC indictments of its minister of humanitarian affairs and a high-ranking leader of the janjaweed militias fighting in Darfur.

Meanwhile Uganda, which is a member of the ICC and asked for the court to investigate crimes of the LRA, now plans to seek alternative justice for the rebels by establishing its own special court.

Machar, however, was clearly anxious that Kony be available to sign, even if it is not in Juba.

During a conference this week on traditional justice in northern Uganda, Machar said he will travel to Ri-Kwangba this weekend to meet with Kony about the signing.

Machar said he will make the trip despite claims by Uganda that Kony was in the Central African Republic, CAR and had breached the ceasefire agreement.

Ugandan officials said the signing would take place with or without Kony.

The LRA, meanwhile, claimed that Kony was in Ri-Kwangba, the agreed upon meeting place for the rebels on the border of South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo.

“Kony is present,” said Matsanga. “He’s not coming to Juba because he still has the warrants on his head. I don’t think someone can give a notice of three days [for a meeting] when he’s in Central Africa Republic.”

In addition to Machar, about 80 leaders from northern Uganda were expected to meet Kony in Ri-Kwangba at his request, said Justin Labeja, a member of the LRA delegation.

Meanwhile, South Sudan is planning a large signing ceremony.

“That’s a very important day, a day of pride for all of us: Uganda, Sudan, the region and humanity,” said Machar.

As in the past, the existence of the ICC warrants for the rebel leader were said by some to be a stumbling block to a permanent peace.

“The major problem is the ICC: the warrants have to be lifted,” said David Penytoo, a member of parliament from Gulu. “That’s why we want to meet [Kony] and see how it can be signed in Juba, so that people have peace.”

Morris Ogenga Latigo, who is from northern Uganda and is the opposition leader in the Ugandan parliament, also urged the lifting of the ICC indictments.

“For us, we are focused more on peace returning, permanent peace,” said Latigo. “Right now, people can tell you there is peace. But they don’t know what will happen if the indictments are not lifted.”

Badru Mulumba is a journalist in Juba.

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