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25 Feb 2008 14:10
Uganda on Monday accused Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels of breaking a truce by attacking civilians in the Central African Republic, threatening apparent progress at talks to end one of the continent’s longest wars.
Representatives of the shadowy guerrilla group, who signed a “permanent ceasefire” with Ugandan negotiators on Saturday at long-running discussions in south Sudan, denied the allegation.
Under the terms of that and an earlier deal, LRA fighters are meant to stay at forest camps on the remote border between southern Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) until the final phase of the talks decides how to disarm and demobilise them.
On Monday, Uganda’s military said it had received witness reports that the rebels had moved into Central African Republic (CAR) and killed several people during an attack on Saturday on the small frontier town of Ezo.
“This is a blatant violation of the just-signed ceasefire agreement,” Captain Chris Magezi, spokesperson for the Ugandan government delegation at the talks, said.
“I hope that the LRA will change their mind and will assemble ... in conformity with the agreements signed.”
Both sides have been hailed in recent days for pushing forward negotiations that had stumbled along in southern Sudan’s capital, Juba, since mid-2006 with little to report.
The ceasefire agreed to on Saturday left only demobilisation on the agenda, and jubilant mediators, including United Nations envoy Joaquim Chissano, were forecasting a final peace deal within days.
Two decades of civil war have destabilised northern Uganda and neighbouring parts of eastern DRC and south Sudan, killing tens of thousands of people and uprooting about two million more.
Rebels demand proof
A lasting peace deal now would be a major coup for Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who is a United States ally in the region.
The top LRA negotiator, David Nyekorach Matsanga, described the latest government charges as “nonsense”.
“Whoever is perpetuating such allegations must prove that the LRA has fighters in those areas,” he said.
Uganda’s state minister for regional cooperation, Isaac Musumba, said the government was in touch with CAR officials “to see how we can deal with this new angle in the conflict”.
Led by self-proclaimed mystic Joseph Kony, the guerrillas are notorious for kidnapping thousands of children and for mutilating victims.
Kony and two of his top commanders are wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The rebels have insisted that any final peace deal must include the scrapping of those warrants, something supporters of the Hague-based ICC say would undermine its very purpose.
Adding to pressure for the tortuous, on-off negotiations to succeed, some officials in south Sudan accuse LRA fighters of resuming their attacks on civilians in recent weeks.
On Monday, Joseph Ngere, acting governor of Western Equatoria state, said the Ugandan rebels had killed at least 10 people and abducted others during raids there last week.
“Twenty-seven people are missing, including women and children,” he said by satellite telephone.
The chief mediator at the talks, south Sudanese Vice-President Riek Machar, said the identity of armed groups who had been causing “havoc” in the state remained unclear.—Reuters
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