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Kony Meeting Request Raises Hopes

Northern Ugandans welcome news that rebel leader has asked for another meeting with peace negotiators.
By Joe Wacha
Reports that Lord’s Resistance Army, LRA, leader Joseph Kony has asked to meet with peace negotiators have revived hope that a peace deal may soon be signed

United Nations special envoy for LRA-affected areas Joachim Chissano said on a visit to Gulu last weekend that the mercurial leader has requested yet another meeting with negotiators as a prelude to his possible signing of the agreement.

“Last month, Kony telephoned us and asked for one last meeting before he can sign, and [I] am in the process of preparing a meeting between LRA leader Joseph Kony and the mediator [Riek Machar of South Sudan],” said Chissano.

Assuming such a meeting takes place, Chissano said he then would talk to Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni.

According to a BBC Online report from August 19, Ugandan interior minister Ruhaka Rugunda said that more talks were not an option as negotiations had ended.

Peace talks between Kampala and the rebel group began in Juba in the autonomous region of South Sudan in July 2006.

Kony has failed to show up to sign a final agreement to end the 20-year conflict in the north of the country, despite reportedly having agreed to do so on two occasions – first in April and then again in May.

However, Gulu resident district commissioner Walter Ochora welcomed the news that Kony had asked for another meeting. But he warned that if the militia leader didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to sign the deal, military action against the LRA was inevitable.

Ochora – who is a frequent critic of Kony and the LRA – said he hoped the peace deal would be signed, although he was sceptical about the rebel chief commitment to the process.

Gulu district chairperson Norbert Mao said he was hopeful that the renewed peace efforts would bear fruit. He expects Kony to sign a deal when he meets with Chissano next week.

Marin Ojara, a member of the Gulu district council, described the latest move to revive the talks as “a positive development, which must be supported and encouraged by all”.

Restoring peace in northern Uganda cannot be achieved overnight, said Ojara, adding that everyone should be grateful for even small steps towards the final goal.

Ugandan army Captain Chris Magezi, spokesperson for the government’s delegation, said Kony’s request is long overdue.

The government would be happy to seal the peace deal, he said.

“Our position has not changed,” Magezi told IWPR. “All we are waiting for is Kony to sign the final peace agreement. President [Museveni] has been ready all this time. So that the task remains to put the agreements to practice, that’s the challenge.”

Chissano told officials he believes Kony will sign the peace deal this time and dismissed persistent fears that outstanding arrest warrants issued by the International Criminal Court, ICC, could derail the peace process.

The international court originally charged Kony and four of his commanders, two of whom have since been killed.

Discussions regarding the suspension of the war crimes indictments were continuing, said Chissano, although he did not elaborate.

“The outcome may be the suspension of the warrants to enable the implementation [of] the agreement so that General Kony can come back freely [to Uganda] without fear of being arrested to go to The Hague,” he said.

Kony has currently based his rebel force in the Garamba National Park in a remote corner of northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, DRC.

The peace agreement includes a provision that Kony will be tried by a Ugandan court instead of the ICC. However, many are doubtful that this will happen, including representatives of the court.

Chissano is hopeful that the peace deal will soon be signed.

“Kony says that he wants peace now. He wants one more meeting, only one more meeting. So we are trying to organise that meeting. We hope that in one or two weeks we are going to meet Kony, and we hope that this time he is going to sign,” he said.

The possibility of a meeting between Kony and Chissano follows a recent reconciliation between the LRA and the South Sudan army, which clashed in early June.

“If this meeting will take place, it means they have reconciled, because you know that an LRA unit had attacked an SPLA [Sudan People's Liberation Army] unit, which resulted in deaths of…SPLA soldiers and some Sudanese civilians,” continued Chissano.

Chissano did not explain what would happen if Kony fails to sign the deal yet again.

“Well, if he fails to turn up, he will only keep himself longer in the bush,” he said.

“But on our side and that of the mediator, we will keep the door open for him. The government of Uganda is ready to implement the agreement.

“I think this process is irreversible. No one is interested in resuming war.”

Yusuf Adek, a member of the LRA peace team, confirmed that rebels and South Sudan had resolved their conflict and the LRA could move to an agreed assembly point without fear of revenge for the June attack.

Adek also said that David Matsanga, the controversial leader of the rebel peace team, may be replaced. Matsanga’s appointment had prompted many in the LRA peace delegation to resign.

“We are only waiting for a date from [Kony] for us members of the delegation to go and meet at Ri-Kwangba and discuss who the new leader of the delegation will be, and also agree on the way forward for the peace process,” Adek told IWPR.

Back in northern Uganda, which has borne the brunt of Kony’s war with the government that claimed an estimated 100,000 lives and displaced nearly two million people, many are anxious for a formal conclusion to the talks.

Francis Odora, whose face and limbs were scarred by a bomb, said he was frustrated by Kony’s practice of toying with people’s hopes and fears.

“What really is the meaning of this?” asked Odora. “Is it not just another opportunity to test our patience? I have long lost interest in ever seeing Kony sign the peace agreement. If anything, we are already getting used to the situation. Let him be where he is. We are tired.

“Several miles away from here, and already without his fighters, I don’t care about what Kony does now,” said Julius Ojok, who was once abducted by the rebels, and is now studying motor vehicle technology in Lira.

“Let him live in the Congo forests [while] we continue to rebuild our lives which he destroyed.”

However, others in the region said they continue to hope that Kony will sign the final peace agreement and end the conflict.

Hillary Owiny, a resident of Laminawino village, about 20 kilometres west of Gulu, said that signing a peace agreement would encourage many who still live in camps for the displaced to return to their homes and resume farming.

The lack of a peace settlement has kept alive fears about a possible return to war, explained Owiny, which is why some people still linger in internal refugee camps.

“Yeah, I’m happy because Kony wants to go back and resume the peace process,” said Owiny. “I think he will sign and come back to stay with the people.”

Joe Wacha is an IWPR-trained journalist and a correspondent for Uganda Radio Network.

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