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

Talks Resume Amid More Uncertainty

LRA army demands ICC charges be dropped as details emerge of village attacks.
By IWPR ICC
Uganda’s chief negotiator at the Juba peace talks says a final deal to end the country’s war with the Lord’s Resistance Army, LRA, could come within weeks, but the rebel delegation claims that is impossible.



Interior Minister Ruhukana Rugunda said last week the cessation of hostilities agreement with the rebels had been extended to February 29 with the understanding that remaining issues in the peace talks would be resolved by then.



Because of this, Rugunda said the talks have reached a critical stage. If they fail, Uganda has threatened military action against the rebels.



The extension - the fifth since the talks began in July 2006 - allowed the newly reconstituted rebel peace team and its new lawyers to meet with rebel leader Joseph Kony in his jungle camp near the border of South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC.



But as the rebel delegation returned to Juba to resume the talks, old issues resurfaced amid new demands from the LRA, who continued to deny involvement in recent attacks on villages in South Sudan which reports say left more than 100 dead.



Meanwhile, Uganda remains anxious about reported rebel army movements towards the Central African Republic. Rugunda called this “a blatant violation” of the ceasefire. The rebels, meanwhile, insist they have not moved.



Indictments against Kony and his top commanders, unsealed in October 2005 by the International Criminal Court, ICC, are the biggest stumbling block to the talks, according to the rebel’s new lead negotiator, David Nyekorach Matsanga.



Kony and five other LRA leaders are charged war crimes and crimes against humanity, and Kony alone faces 33 counts. Two commanders who were charged in the initial indictments have died – one killed by Kony and the other by the Ugandan army.



In a radio interview broadcast over the internet, Matsanga reiterated rebel demands that the indictments must be removed before Kony and his commanders would sign a peace deal.



The Ugandan government, he said, needs to act quickly to get the warrants dropped. Parliament is reportedly considering an official request that the ICC rescind the charges.



Meanwhile, an agreement was signed on February 19 in which Uganda will establish a special court that would conduct war crimes trials for LRA commanders who planned or carried out the war’s multiple and systematic attacks on civilians.



Human Rights Watch in New York praised the move, calling it “a major step toward peace and justice for northern Uganda”. But, Richard Dicker, HRW’s International Justice Program director, said the key will be how the court works and if it can produce results that match international standards.



The agreement also provides for an investigations and prosecutions unit, attention to the needs of victims and witnesses, and the recruitment of relevant experts, said HRW. There are also provisions for a truth commission, reparations to victims and traditional justice practices.



The latter, such as mato oput, would backup the current Uganda national justice system as an alternative to the ICC.



Matsanga said the ICC indictments were the result of a biased investigation because no indictments were issued against the Ugandan army, which the rebels have said also committed atrocities. These acts by the military, they said, sparked the rebel war in the mid-1980s.



Matsanga also said that the talks must address the root causes of the war, such as the marginalisation of the north. The LRA recently demanded that people from northern Uganda be given 35 per cent of all government and military posts.



Matsanga said the Ugandan army had to withdraw from South Sudan, where it has been operating since 2002 when it attacked rebel bases following an agreement with the government of Sudan.



These issues, he said, could not be resolved by the end of February.



Meanwhile, residents who fled alleged LRA attacks in South Sudan, which killed an undetermined number of people, say they’re afraid to return home.



More than 1000 South Sudanese have fled two separate attacks by a unit of some 200 to 300 LRA fighters, say residents of both Kajo-Keji and Lainya counties in Central Equatoria Province.



On January 30, the LRA attacked police in Kajo-Keji, killing one civilian, one officer and two members of Sudan Peoples Liberation Army, SPLA, according to officials. More than 300 civilians were displaced.



“Shops, livestock, bedding and an amount of 40,000 local Sudanese pounds (20,000 US dollars) were looted from the three villages,” said Oliver Mule, commissioner of Kajo-Keji County.



SPLA soldiers chased the rebels after the attack, and reportedly killed one, said Mule. Also, 51 civilians were kidnapped, but some were released later.



Julius Lado, who was abducted but later escaped, said the attack happened early on January 30. “I was abducted on that day, but they released me after a week of traveling with them towards Yei county [in] Central Equatoria Province. There are still nine men and four women who are in the hands of the LRA,” he said.



“The rebels were speaking in simple Arabic and Acholi,” continued Lado, noting that Acholi is the language of the rebels. “When the rebels abducted us, we were forced to carry the looted items.”



Michael Duku was among those who were attacked. “The LRA came and looted all our bedding,” he said. “We were only left with [the] clothing on our bodies.” Duku said he and others who fled now rely on friends and families to survive.



“We are completely scared of going back, because there is no guarantee for peace,” said Duku. “In 2006 May, they attacked our village and we were forced to flee, and again this time. We are tired and will not go back.”



Josphine Kiden,a South Sudanese mother of six children, regrets having returned to Kajo-Keji after fleeing fighting there for the relative safety of Uganda several years ago.



“l thought [my] home is at peace, but it has [turned out] to be the opposite,” she complained. “We ran to Uganda because of war, and now we are being repatriated, [but] there is still insecurity in our homeland. l better go back to Uganda where we were brought from.”



A second attack attributed to the LRA came on February 11, and sent nearly 800 people fleeing from Undurubwa, a village about 100 kilometres from Juba, said officials.



“They attacked us in the night around 10 pm when people were sleeping, and looted mainly food stuffs, but did not abduct people from the village,” said Alfred Gore, who was among those who fled. It took him two days to walk to Juba.



Matsanga told IWPR that lawless militias, not the LRA, were responsible. “Such people are trying to jeopardise the peace talks. Nevertheless, we remain committed to the negotiations.”



Few in South Sudan believe Matsanga’s claims.



Angry at the attacks and continued insecurity in the region, the parliament of Central Equatoria province last week asked that the peace talks, which are being hosted by the government and mediated by South Sudan vice-president Riek Machar, be suspended.



“We in the parliament strongly condemn, and in no uncertain terms, the atrocities and killings of our people by the LRA,” said Clement Maring Samuel, chairman of security in the parliament.



“Peace cannot be talked at one end and people killed at the other end. We cannot buy peace at the expense of the innocent lives of our people,” said Maring.



“Let the government of South Sudan stand up to its responsibility to guarantee the security of our people and their property as it is its paramount responsibility to ensure stability all over the country,” said the parliamentary speaker, Zamba Duku.



The government of South Sudan has yet to react to the provincial parliament’s demands.



Hamid Taban is an IWPR journalist in Juba, and Peter Eichstaedt is IWPR Africa Editor.



More IWPR's Global Voices