Uganda rebels walk out of peace talks

Ugandan rebels have walked out of peace talks because the government refused their demands for senior government posts, a rebel spokesperson said on Friday.

The two sides have been meeting in Sudan-mediated peace talks since July 2006 in an effort to resolve a brutal 20-year insurgency in northern Uganda. Earlier this week, the talks took a major step forward with an agreement on how to prosecute alleged war crimes.

David Matsanga, a representative of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels, said they had asked for five ministerial posts, five ambassadorships, two commissioner posts and 20 other senior government positions.

“We walked out protesting the government’s rejection of our demands,” Matsanga said. They left the talks late on Thursday.

Matsanga added that the government had also refused to finance the return of rebel political leaders and members of the negotiating team from abroad and protect them in Uganda.

The rebels have decamped and returned a number of times and a government spokesperson said they were optimistic that the LRA team would return to negotiations soon.

“It is bad that they have walked out of the talks.
But that is not the first time that LRA walks out of talks. We are sure that they will come back and we will conclude the peace talks and sign the agreement,” Captain Paddy Ankunda said.

Government officials said they cannot grant such posts to the rebels because doing so would be unconstitutional.

“The Constitution of Uganda lays out the ways to get to power or leadership. We cannot give out the positions without changing the Constitution,” said Ruhakana Rugunda, of the government’s negotiating team.

The conflict has been one of Africa’s longest running, sparked by a 1986 rebellion in the north when President Yoweri Museveni, a southerner, took power.

LRA leader Joseph Kony and four other top LRA leaders have been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on atrocities charges, including rape, mutilation and murder. But court officials have no power of arrest, and Museveni’s government has promised not to turn over the LRA suspects if they sign a peace deal.

Uganda has, however, promised to try to convince the ICC to drop indictments against Kony so he can be tried in Uganda after signing a comprehensive peace agreement.

LRA fighters are notorious for cutting off the tongues and lips of civilians and abducting thousands of children, turning the girls into sex slaves and the boys into fighters.—Sapa-AP

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