Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Rebel Victims Promised Compensation

Museveni says funds to come from government’s reconciliation and rehabilitation programme.
By Samuel Okiror
The Uganda government will compensate victims of the two-decade insurgency in northern Uganda once a comprehensive peace deal is reached at the South Sudan-mediated peace talks in Juba, President Yoweri Museveni announced this week.



Museveni said people who have been mutilated or raped, together with those whose relatives have been murdered by rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army, LRA, in the region will be compensated under the government’s programme of reconciliation and rehabilitation.



The head of state is touring northern districts of Uganda devastated by both the war and the country’s worst floods in 35 years.



“We are going to mobilise funds,” Museveni told reporters in Gulu, the north’s biggest town, on October 1. “The victims will be compensated once a comprehensive peace agreement is signed in Juba.”



Meanwhile, government officials in Kampala, the Ugandan capital, announced that LRA negotiators would meet government negotiators in Kampala later this month in what could be a fillip to the Juba talks.



The visit to Kampala would be the first by LRA representatives since the northern war began in 1986. The government officials emphasised, however, that the visit would last only a day and that the movement’s top leaders would not be part of the delegation. They will remain in their bush headquarters in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC.



LRA spokesman in Juba Godfrey Ayoo said the chairman of the LRA delegation at the Juba talks, Martin Ojul, will lead a six-man team to Kampala.



LRA and government teams are currently engaged in on-off peace talks mediated by Dr Riek Machar, Vice President of the autonomous South Sudan government, and overseen by the United Nations special envoy for northern Uganda, former Mozambique president Joachim Chissano.



The talks in Juba, the South Sudan capital, are aimed at ending the 21-year insurgency that has displaced more than 1.7million people from their homes and resulted in more than 100,000 deaths. Some 75,000 people, including 38,000 children, have been abducted in LRA attacks.



Since negotiations began in July last year, with a ceasefire being agreed a month later, the war-ravaged region has been largely peaceful, and people have slowly begun returning to their homes from the squalid refugee camps.



Funding problems are currently stalling the Juba talks, which were adjourned on June 29. A date for their resumption keeps being set back, with mid-October now cited as the earliest possible date for a return to the table.



The rebels are requesting cash from international donors to carry out consultations with a wide range of northern representatives on accountability and reconciliation proposals that are on the table in Juba. The LRA argues that it needs the money to airlift 500 delegates from northern Uganda to the main rebel base in the 5,000 square kilometre Garamba National Park in the DRC. It also wants to fund travel for its negotiators to Argentina, South Africa and Sierra Leone to research issues of conflict, justice and reconciliation.



The government delegation has just concluded its own consultations in the north, collecting views from war victims and community leaders on issues of accountability and reconciliation, the third of five items on the agenda at the Juba talks.



Museveni, who told reporters that his government has devised a14-point programme for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the north, said, "I am told the victims in this area are ready to forgive these people [the LRA rebels] who committed various atrocities against them. I was worried the people would take the law in their hands when they [the rebels] return home."



During its consultations on accountability and reconciliation, the majority of LRA victims said they would forgive the rebels in the interests of peace, according to government reports.



The LRA leader, Joseph Kony, his deputy, Vincent Otti, and top commanders Okot Odhiambo and Dominic Ogwen have been indicted by the Hague-based International Criminal Court, ICC, to answer charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The LRA leaders face 33 charges of murder, rape, sexual enslavement, mutilation, abduction and recruitment of child soldiers as guerrilla fighters. A fifth indicted LRA commander, Raska Lukwiya, was killed last year in a battle with government forces near Kitgum, on the border with Sudan.



The president said he hoped the Kony would grasp the chance of peace offered by the Juba peace negotiations.



Describing the LRA as terrorists who were supported by Sudan’s Arab government until the Juba talks began, Museveni said, "I hope Kony and his group will use the chance of peace talks. Before the start of the talks, we had managed to eliminate terrorism caused by these rebels and brought peace. We fought and defeated the terrorists who were disturbing us and those Sudan Arabs who were supporting them.



“We have built an army that is able to guarantee peace in Uganda. No one will destabilise again our peace. We now have the means to guarantee the security in the whole country - quickly, unlike in the past.”



Museveni said the government intended reopening schools that were abandoned in northern Uganda as a result of the war.



Museveni said the 14-point recovery programme includes elimination of terrorism, construction of roads, restoring education, instituting micro-finance projects, an industrialisation strategy and reconstructing health facilities.



Samuel Okiror Egadu is an IWPR journalist in Uganda.