Uganda extends deadline for peace with rebels

Uganda on Tuesday extended a September 12 deadline for the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) to agree to a peace deal or lose an amnesty offer for war-crimes charges its leaders face.

Just hours before its expiration, Kampala said it would fix a new deadline—yet to be announced—in recognition of progress being made at peace talks in southern Sudan following a landmark truce last month.

The move boosts hopes for the negotiations, which have been adjourned until at least next week, aimed at ending northern Uganda’s brutal, nearly two-decade war that has killed tens of thousands and displaced nearly two million.

Uganda’s Deputy Foreign Minister Okello Oryem told reporters that a new deadline would be announced soon, but suggested the revised timetable could also be adjusted depending on the situation when it expires.

“The adjustment of the deadline will be announced any time soon,” he said, noting that the step was being taken because Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni was pleased with “the progress and realistic situation on the ground”.

“President Museveni is satisfied with the progress and the movement of the LRA, including the presence of Vincent Otti, at the assembly points,” Oryem said, referring to the rebels’ second-in-command.

Under the truce, LRA fighters, who number between 500 and 5 000 according to various estimates, have until September 19 to gather at one of two neutral camps in south Sudan where they are remain for the duration of the peace talks.

“Members of the LRA are following the cessation-of-hostilities agreement and are assembling in big numbers,” Oryem said, noting the arrival of Otti at one camp and of about 400 fighters in the other since the weekend.

In July, Museveni set September 12 as the deadline for rebels to sign a peace accord or lose an offer of a blanket amnesty extended to elusive LRA supremo Joseph Kony, Otti and three other top commanders—one of whom is now dead—for war crimes charges lodged by the International Criminal Court.

Since the truce took effect on August 29, he has hinted the date is flexible, although the rebels say they won’t agree to a deal unless the charges are dropped and Museveni won’t ask for them to be quashed until a pact is done.

The indictees have refused to participate in the peace talks in the southern Sudanese capital of Juba, citing fears of arrest, but Oryem said new efforts would be made to convince at least Otti to attend.

Before the talks resume, he said lead mediator Riek Machar, the vice-president of autonomous south Sudan, LRA negotiators and top United Nations relief envoy Jan Egeland would meet with Otti in a bid to bring him to Juba.

“They will encourage him and, if possible, come back with him to the negotiation venue,” Oryem said.

Egeland, who toured war-ravaged northern Uganda on the weekend and visited Juba on Monday, was in Kenya on Tuesday but did not mention any plans to meet with Otti in person in comments to reporters there.

However, he told a Nairobi news conference that the UN was willing to assist the negotiations in any way it could.

“The UN is supporting this peace process,” Egeland said. “We will do anything to help this succeed”.

One way in which UN agencies are prepared to assist immediately is in caring for thousands of so-called “non-essentials”—women, children, the wounded, elderly and sick—the LRA have agreed to release, he said.

The LRA, which took leadership of a regional rebellion in 1988 and purports to want to create a government based on the Biblical Ten Commandments, has been accused of committing horrendous atrocities, including rapes, mutilations and mass abductions.—AFP

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