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Will He, Won't He?

Northern Ugandan leaders' hopes of securing peace deal raised as rebel leader once more claims he will sign.
By Samuel Okiror
A delegation of northern Ugandan leaders plans to travel to South Sudan this week in the hope of getting Joseph Kony to sign a peace deal, despite doubts over the rebel leader’s renewed claim that he will put pen to paper.



Up to a dozen people, possibly including United Nations special envoy Joachim Chissano and talks mediator Riek Machar, the vice president of South Sudan, are reportedly set to meet in the remote village of Nabanga with Kony or other members of his Lord’s Resistance Army, LRA.



Nabanga is on the border of South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, where Kony had previously said he would sign a peace agreement that has been more than two years in negotiations.



Lingering doubts over Kony’s sincerity are such that no press will be allowed to accompany the group, according to UN officials, in case Kony does not appear. The team is set to travel on UN helicopters to the signing site.



Earlier this year, Kony twice refused to show up to sign the deal despite the presence of dozens of dignitaries, negotiators and press. Subsequently, Kony has requested meetings with negotiators, only to later break off communications.



“Our leader (Kony) is ready to sign the peace deal [agreement] on November 29, 2008,” David Nyekorach Matsanga, the controversial spokesman and chief rebel negotiator, said last week in Kampala.



The statement came about the same time as an alleged letter dated November 19 was apparently sent from Kony to Chissano, Machar and others saying he would sign the deal on November 29.



Kony’s reported letter was also said to have been sent the Acholi Paramount Chief, Rwot David Onen Achana.



Emmanuel Mwaka, of the Acholi Cultural Institution and a deputy of Achana’s, told IWPR that Kony called Achana last week confirming his commitment to sign the peace deal.



However, Mwaka refused to divulge details of the alleged letter or the call.



“It’s true Kony wrote to the paramount chief about him signing the final peace agreement on November 29. He also called him on the phone,” Mwaka said.



“We hope he becomes serious this time round and signs the peace deal. It’s the wish of our people he signs the agreement. Our people are tired of the rebellion. They want peace.”



But he was also sceptical that the rebel leader would sign.



According to the Gulu deputy resident commissioner, Milton Odong, the team includes cultural, religious, and political figures from northern Uganda who will fly November 27 to Juba. From there, they will go to Nabanga for the Saturday ceremony.



No one from the Uganda government is reportedly planning to attend, according to delegation spokesperson, Captain Chris Magezi.



“We are not aware of Kony’s letter to President Chissano and Dr Machar. No one has informed us,” Magezi said. “However, we encourage every effort made to ensure that Kony signs the final peace agreement as soon as possible. The government of Uganda has been waiting for long for this agreement to be signed.”



There have been reports that President Yoweri Museveni is prepared to fly to Juba to sign the agreement if Kony does so.



Kony and his top commanders remain under indictment by the International Criminal Court, ICC, for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The charges were from the LRA actions in northern Uganda in 2004, which were part of a 20-year war that resulted in the deaths of an estimated 100,000 people and the displacement of nearly two million.



The court, however, recently announced that it will review the case.



Feelings were mixed across the north about the renewed possibility of a deal being signed.



“I am not sure that Kony will turn up to sign the agreement [since] he didn’t the last time when the whole world turned up,” Beatrice Anywar Atim, a parliamentary member from Kitgum, said. I wish they [would] sign today.”



Gulu district commissioner, Walter Ochora, who has been involved in the peace talks in the past, also questioned whether Kony would show up.



“Kony is the most unpredictable person I have ever come across,” Ochora said. “But with the pressure now. We give him the benefit of doubt.”



Gulu deputy commissioner Milton Olupot was more optimistic. “[Kony] will turn up and sign the agreement this time round,” he said. “Kony is under a lot of pressure. If he doesn’t sign, he knows what will happen.”



Uganda’s army spokesperson Major Paddy Ankunda was cautious. “As far as we have seen, Kony is not good at honouring agreements,” he said.



Samuel Egadu is an IWPR-trained journalist.