Ugandan rebels order fighters to prepare for truce

Uganda’s rebel Lord’s Resistance Army on Monday ordered its forces to prepare for an imminent truce with the government under which they will move to neutral camps in southern Sudan.

In recorded government-authorised messages broadcast over radio stations in war-ravaged northern Uganda, LRA commanders called on their fighters to come out of the bush once the truce agreed at the weekend takes force early on Tuesday.

“Do not abduct people or steal food,” LRA deputy chief Vincent Otti said in one message first aired on Sunday, less than 24 hours after government and rebel negotiators signed the “cessation of hostilities” pact in south Sudan.

“If you want food, ask the community,” he said, assuring LRA fighters that the truce, a major boost to halting peace talks aimed at ending northern Uganda’s brutal, nearly 20-year, war, was genuine.

“Do not commit attacks or ambushes as you move,” Otti said, also appealing to local communities in the conflict-shattered north not be alarmed if they see LRA fighters moving through their villages.

“They are not out to harm anybody,” he said. “People should be free to move because this is the beginning of the end.”

Under the terms of the agreement, Uganda will guarantee the rebels—who number between 500 and 5 000, according to various estimates—safe passage to the two assembly points in autonomous southern Sudan.

They will stay at the sites for the duration of the talks under the protection, supervision and care of the government of southern Sudan, which is mediating the negotiations at its regional capital of Juba.

Uganda’s deputy defence minister, Ruth Nankabirwa, said she had given the green light for Otti’s recording to be broadcast in line with the truce that requires both sides to ensure the message is received in the bush.

“I was consulted and gave them the go ahead and Otti spoke on the radio encouraging his fighters to observe the agreement and not to steal food,” she told Agence France-Presse by phone in Kampala.

Many of the rebels are illiterate, hungry and desperate children who are cut off from most communication in remote jungle locations in northern Uganda, southern Sudan and the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

The truce is to take effect at 6am (3am GMT) on Tuesday after an announcement by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and LRA supremo Joseph Kony, who is also expected to move to one of the two camps.

The Juba talks are seen by many as the best way to end northern Uganda’s conflict, which has claimed tens of thousands of lives and displaced nearly two-million people since the LRA took leadership of a regional rebellion in 1988.

The United Nations and relief groups have described the conflict as one of the world’s worst and most forgotten humanitarian crises and warned its impact will take decades to overcome.

Despite high hopes injected into the peace process by the truce, mediators have warned of a difficult and lengthy process ahead, with the two sides at deep odds on a variety of wealth- and power-sharing issues.

Kampala has flatly rejected rebel demands for huge cuts in the government army and 40% LRA representation in the reduced force as well as a call for complete autonomy for northern Uganda under a revamped Constitution.

Museveni has set a September 12 deadline for a comprehensive settlement to be signed and warned that an offer of amnesty to Kony and other top LRA commanders charged with war crimes by the International Criminal Court will also expire on that date.

However, the date may slip as the truce gives the rebels three weeks from its entry into force to complete their move to the temporary camps. - AFP


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