Rebels and govt talk the talk

Talks between the Ugandan government and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) have resumed in Juba, the capital of southern Sudan, despite accusations and counter-accusations of truce violations by both sides.

An LRA spokesperson, Obonyo Olweny, said the talks, which have been marked by long delays between sessions, could derail if the government continues to violate a cessation of hostilities agreement signed on August 26. The government, he added, had deployed its troops to surround LRA fighters assembled at Owiny Ki-Bul camp, in southern Sudan, near the border with Uganda.

A spokesperson for the government delegation at the talks denied claims of truce violations, instead accusing the rebels of abandoning assembly sites as required by the agreement. ”All the LRA men at Owiny Ki-Bul were from northern Uganda … we allowed them passage through our positions on their way to the camp; how then can we surround them now?” Captain Paddy Ankunda, said. ”We are for peace. We are going to remain here in Juba and try to engage the LRA in these talks.”

Olweny said the rebels had not abandoned Owiny Ki-Bul, saying: ”We have not moved an inch from our positions since August 26 when the agreement was signed.” Instead, he added, the LRA had information that the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) had deployed ”heavily” around Owiny Ki-Bul and that truckloads of UPDF soldiers were in the Democratic Republic of Congo, moving towards Ri-Kwangba, another LRA assembly point in the Garamba National Park in northeastern Congo.

”We see these as hostile activities by the UPDF,” Olweny told Irin in Juba this week. ”The 871 LRA troops we had in Owiny-Ki-Bul have been surrounded; the UPDF deployment was aggressive, with helicopter gunships and truckloads of Ugandan troops moving from Gulu towards Ri-Kwangba.” He said there were 1 848 LRA fighters at Ri-Kwangba while another 7 490 were waiting to enter the assembly point, ”but the facilities there are inadequate”. He said the camp had no clean water, the fighters were not provided with food and medical facilities were not in place. LRA leader Joseph Kony and his deputy, Vincent Otti, were ”near” Ri-Kwangba, Olweny added.

The rebels also said they wanted the team appointed to monitor the implementation of the August 26 agreement to visit Owiny Ki-Bul to establish whether the UPDF had withdrawn from the assembly point. Members of the monitoring team are drawn from the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, Ugandan government, LRA and African Union. ”There will be no talks until the Cessation of Hostilities Monitoring Team establishes that the UPDF has withdrawn from Owiny Ki-Bul,” Olweny added.

The latest talks mark the third round of the southern Sudanese-mediated negotiations, aimed at ending the decades-long war in northern Uganda.

There are a number of items on the agenda: a cessation of hostilities, which has already been signed and is being implemented covers the LRA’s participation in national politics, social and economic development of northern and eastern Uganda and the resettlement of internally displaced persons; accountability and reconciliation; a formal ceasefire and disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of LRA combatants.

Before the resumption of talks, Ojul had issued a statement threatening to withdraw from the process. ”The Juba peace talks are in grave danger of failure due to the unfolding heavy military deployment of UPDF,” he said. The rebels only agreed to sit down with the government delegation after meeting Machar.

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