The Ugandan government said it had signed a permanent ceasefire accord with the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebel group on Saturday, a landmark step in efforts to end more than two decades of civil war.
Government delegation spokesperson Captain Chris Magezi called the accord ”another major breakthrough” in effort to end conflict that has left tens of thousands dead and displace two million.
”This agreement is an important landmark and a turning point,” Magezi said. ”This is a demonstration by both parties of their determination to work towards expeditious signing of the final peace agreement,” or the final overall accord.
The truce will take effect 24 hours after the signing of the final accord, which both sides hope will take place in the coming days.
It will be the first permanent ceasefire since LRA rebels began operating in northern Uganda two decades ago. The LRA says it has been fighting on behalf of neglected communities.
Disarmament and the demobilisation of LRA fighters is the last agenda item for the final agreement scheduled to be ”signed this week if all goes according to plan”, an official said.
Under the agreement, LRA fighters are required to gather in the South Sudan Ri-KwangBa assembly area from their hideouts in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Any presence, movement or other actions of LRA forces outside Ri-KwangBa, including arms purchases and the recruitment of new fighters, constitute a violation of the truce, according to the text.
The deal barred hostage-taking, but did not direct the LRA to release civilians it has been accused of kidnapping during the conflict, which spurred a major humanitarian crisis
The south Sudan government was assigned to protect the rebels, supply them with food at the assembly point and oversee the overall implementation of the agreement.
The agreement directs the creation of a ceasefire monitoring team (CMT), headed by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). Each side will give five members and the African Union and the United Nations will provide 10 members.
Reached during talks in the south Sudan capital of Juba, the truce was signed by Ugandan Internal Affairs Minister Ruhakana Rugunda and LRA chief negotiator David Nyekorach Matsanga, and witnessed by south Sudan vice-president Riek Machar along with UN special envoy Joaquim Chissano, the former president of Mozambique.
On Wednesday, UN chief Ban Ki-moon urged the feuding sides to reach a comprehensive peace deal quickly.
The conflict has raged since 1988, when elusive LRA chief Joseph Kony took charge of a two-year-old regional rebellion among northern Uganda’s ethnic Acholi minority. LRA rebels say they are fighting for the establishment of a government based on the biblical Ten Commandments.
Launched in July 2006, the peace talks are seen as the best chance to end the conflict.
The International Criminal Court (ICC), which has accused four LRA commanders, including Kony, has refused to lift its indictments despite calls by northern Ugandan elders and some government officials.
Kony has vowed never to sign a final peace agreement unless the ICC indictments are lifted, a position that has cast a pall over the peace process. — Sapa-AFP