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LRA May Abandon Kony

LRA negotiators seemingly losing patience with rebel chief over peace process.
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A key member of the Lord’s Resistance Army, LRA, peace team has claimed the rebel army leader Joseph Kony will be abandoned if he fails to sign a comprehensive peace deal by February.



The charge, made by team member Dr James Obita, comes as yet another signal that the peace talks (which began in Juba, South Sudan, nearly 18 months ago), the negotiating team and the rebel army itself may be disintegrating.



“If Kony refuses to sign a peace deal by February, 2008, none of us will be behind him. We shall all abandon him in the bush and come back home,” Obita said at the weekend as he addressed hundreds of internal refugees in the northern town of Ngai.



“We shall tell him to go and fight elsewhere, not in northern Uganda, as people are tired of the war.”



Obita is part of the LRA’s negotiating team touring northern Uganda to consult locals on the accountability and reconciliation strand of the peace agreement between the rebels and the government.



“Enough is enough,” continued Obito. “The people in Acholi, Lango, Teso and West Nile must now have peace. We are committed to the peace. Whoever is not committed can go elsewhere.”



The comments follow the reported defection last week of 30 more rebel soldiers and their commanders from the LRA base camp in Garamba Park in northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, DRC.



The Uganda state minister Henry Okello Oryem said the rebels surrendered to United Nations peacekeepers in the Congo and would be turned over to the Ugandan government.



The defection barely comes a month after top LRA commander Makasi Opio broke ranks.



Also last week, the UN Security Council issued a nonbinding statement supporting the Ugandan peace talks, but also insisted that Kony face justice. Kony and three other commanders have been charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court, ICC.



The Security Council statement fueled speculation that it could derail the peace talks since Kony has vowed not sign a peace deal unless the ICC drops the charges.



The apparent dissention in the LRA ranks comes in the wake of a reported clash between former LRA deputy commander Vincent Otti and Kony. Although Otti has not been heard from since then, Kony told Gulu District Commissioner Norbert Mao that his second-in-command was alive, but under house arrest.



LRA team leader Martin Ojul, who left the peace team over the weekend, insisted that neither his team nor the talks were in danger.



“The defections can’t bog the peace talks,” Ojul told IWPR. “Whatever takes place in Garamba [Park], it will not affect the peace process. Joseph [Kony] is committed to peace talks.”



“The talks can only be affected when there is war in Garamba,” added Yusuf Adek, an LRA peace team member. “The mere defection can’t stop us from what we are doing.”



Interior Minister Ruhakana Rugunda said the government welcomed the LRA defections, but added that the peace talks will remain on course.



Ojul said the Security Council statement would not derail the negotiations and that the negotiators are undecided how to deal with the ICC indictments.



“We are currently consulting with the war victims and other stakeholders on which mechanisms to tackle the ICC issue. At the moment, the Council is right,” Ojul said of the UN statement.



Rugunda agreed, “The UN statement is inconsistent with the agreement we have already signed in Juba on accountability and reconciliation,” he told IWPR.



“The government of Uganda will not condone impunity. We shall ensure justice and accountability. At the moment, the LRA and the government are consulting with Ugandans on mechanisms to make sure impunity will be dealt with.”



Obita’s comments have given hope for some residents of the north that the talks would wrap up early next year.



“We really want to go back to our villages. We are tired of being in the camps because of this war,” said Ronnie Okello, 62.



Betty Amongi, a member of parliament from the town of Apac, welcomed the LRA deadline. “It gives confidence to the suffering people in the camps,” she said.



Rugunda also welcomed the deadline. “As government, we are committed to the expeditious conclusion of the talks and signing of the final peace agreement,” he said.



However, presidential assistant in charge of northern Uganda, Richard Todwong, was less optimistic. “It’s very difficult for LRA delegation to speak on behalf of Kony. I don’t think they are so close to Kony,” said Todwong.



Meanwhile, Kony has apologised via his peace team to internally displaced persons in the Lango region for the atrocities, suffering and pain inflicted to them by his fighters.



“Kony has sent me to ask for forgiveness for the fear and abuse that he put on you people. He has regretted it,” said Obita. “He will also come to apologise to you people.”



Ojul added that Kony has agreed to face traditional tribal justice for his war crimes and crimes against humanity.



Ojul claimed that Kony told him, “I have accepted my mistakes. I want to be punished for war crimes and crimes against humanity I have committed to you people through traditional means.”



Lawyer and LRA peace team member Chrispus Ayena Odongo said, however, that Kony has refused to leave the jungle because of the ICC arrest indictments.



“Kony doesn’t want to be tried by ICC. He wants to be tried by the traditional ways that people of Acholi, Lango and Teso use,” said Ayena.



Ayena urged the refugees to appeal to the ICC to drop the indictments.



Samuel Okiror Egadu is an journalist in Uganda.