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LRA Set to Meet Victims

Rebels to hold landmark talks with Museveni in Kampala before heading off to discuss peace agreement with their victims.
By Samuel Okiror
Representatives of the Lord’s Resistance Army, LRA, are arriving in Uganda this week to consult with war victims in the north of the country on a key plank of a peace deal with Kampala.

After historic direct talks with President Yoweri Museveni in Kampala on November 1, the LRA team, headed by Martin Ojul, will spend a month in northern Uganda where they will discuss the accountability and reconciliation element of the truce agreement with representatives of war victims.

"We are going to take a message of peace to Ugandans. We…. are inviting them (the Ugandans) to join us as we chart the way forward for peace," said LRA spokesman Godfrey Ayoo.

Museveni’s talks with the LRA will be the second time he’s met the rebels to try to negotiate an end to the two-decade long insurgency.

In October last year, the president held an unprecedented face-to-face talks with the LRA in the South Sudan capital Juba, aimed largely at reviving the then stalled peace process. The meeting, however, ended abruptly after serious disagreement, with rebel delegates refusing to shake hands with the Kampala leader.

“They said they wanted to come and we welcome them," Museveni told The Washington Times earlier this week, referring to the landmark meeting in Kampala, the rebels’ first visit to the capital in over 20 year ago.

The president was speaking after talks in Washington with President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. "[The LRA] are coming to test the waters. It is up to those terrorists to come in. We fought them and their sponsors in Sudan. ... We took the decision to give them a soft landing, provided that they give up their terrorism," he said.

Two emissaries of LRA leader Joseph Kony, Ray Achama and Mike Anywar, have already arrived in the Ugandan capital to make security arrangement for their delegation.

The on-off talks in the South Sudan capital, Juba, are seen as the best chance of ending the insurgency that left over 100,000 people dead and displaced more than 1.7 million in the north of the country.

After signing the accountability and reconciliation element of the peace deal, the third item on the agreement’s agenda, the Ugandan government began consulting on the issues it raised. The LRA were supposed to undertake consultations concurrently but these were delayed because of insufficient funds.

The rebels wanted two million US dollars to airlift 500 representatives of victims groups from northern Uganda to the LRA’s base in the Garamba National Park in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC.

They also wanted to send missions to Argentina, Sierra Leone and South Africa to study how reconciliation initiatives have been conducted.

In August, international donors delivered 7.7 million dollars, channeled through the UN Office of the Coordinator for Humanitarian Affairs, to help bolster the peace talks, mediated by the semi-autonomous government of South Sudan.

The LRA leader, Kony, his deputy, Vincent Otti, top commanders, Okot Odiambo and Domenic Ogwen, who are wanted by the Hague-based International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity, are among the LRA forces in Garamba.

The LRA leaders face 33 counts, including rape, murder, abductions, sexual enslavement and recruitment of child soldiers.

Ojul told reporters in the Kenyan capital Nairobi earlier this week that the LRA consultations are geared to getting a lasting peaceful solution to the conflict.

"The consultation exercise we are about to embark on marks a new milestone [in the] participation of the people of Uganda in our collective effort to find lasting and attainable solutions to the political, social and economic problems in Uganda," he said.

In northern Uganda, the Gulu resident district commissioner, Walter Ochora, asked about the imminent arrival of the rebel representatives, said, “We are happy that LRA delegation is finally coming to consult with the victims. They will be able to find what the war victims feel about accountability and reconciliation.”

During the recently concluded government consultations with war victims in the war-torn north, many said they wanted the indicted LRA commanders forgiven, as part of traditional tribal reconciliation ceremony called Mato Oput.

The leader of the government’s delegation, Interior Affairs Minister Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, said talks will resume in Juba when LRA delegation completes its consultations in Uganda.

"We think that confidence has been built within both sides and we do not expect the walk outs that have been experienced in the past," he told the BBC's Network Africa programme.

Meanwhile, the rebels have denied claims that a feud between Kony and Otti has prompted large numbers of LRA fighters to desert.

"To you people of Uganda be reassured that there is no split within the Lord's Resistance Army hierarchy," said an LRA statement.

"There is superb and warm relationship between General Joseph Kony and Lt Gen Vincent Otti."

Samuel Okiror Egadu is an IWPR journalist in Uganda.

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