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29 Feb 2008 14:16
Uganda’s government and the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army have signed the last in a series of documents paving the way for a final peace agreement to end one of Africa’s longest-running conflicts.
But only hours later, the LRA delegation stormed out of a meeting held after the signing ceremony late on Friday in protest at the chief mediator’s insistence that a day should be set for a final peace deal.
The main sticking point is an LRA demand that their leader Joseph Kony, who is thought to be hiding in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s deep forests, be granted immunity from international prosecution before a final deal is signed.
The walk-out highlights the fragility of the peace efforts, and unless the issue of Kony’s immunity is resolved, it could delay or threaten a final deal.
“You have finally signed the necessary agreements and protocols for the final agreement,” chief mediator Riek Machar told the delegations after they signed texts that provided for the disarmament and demobilisation of the LRA.
The Ugandan rebels’ delegation head, David Matsanga-Nyekorach, said after emerging from the hall that the LRA would not sign a final peace deal until international indictments on its leaders are lifted.
An agreement already signed by the two delegations allows for special war crimes courts to be set up in Uganda, a move intended to answer the rebels’ demand not to be tried by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The ICC has indictments out on Kony as well as two of his deputies for crimes against humanity. The LRA has been accused of murder, rape, the abduction of children and slicing off body parts.
Although the rebellion has little direct impact on one of Africa’s fastest growing economies, ending it permanently would be a major coup for President Yoweri Museveni and a relief in the coffee-exporting country of over 30-million.
It would also remove a destabilising element in a remote corner of the continent where conflicts can easily spill over national borders.
The LRA once said it wanted to rule Uganda in accordance with the Bible’s 10 Commandments, but it has never articulated a coherent political vision behind its long war.
Under a second deal on Friday, the Ugandan government is to set up a special division of its high court to carry out criminal investigations after a final deal.
It will also ask the United Nations Security Council to adopt a resolution requesting the ICC “defer all investigations and prosecutions against leaders of the Lord’s Resistance Army”.
But the LRA walkout raised the stakes.
Tens of thousands have been killed and about two million displaced from their homes in the conflict that has affected the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan as well as Uganda.
A collective sense of exhaustion was palpable in the room but, as the heads of the two delegations swapped signed copies, the hall erupted in cheering and clapping.
The new agreements are the fourth and fifth in a fortnight of intense negotiations in the south Sudan capital of Juba.
The stop-start peace process to end more than 20 years of conflict has been continuing for well over a year and a half. A “permanent” ceasefire, to come into force 24 hours after a final peace deal, was agreed a week ago.
Under the new deals, disarmament of the LRA will begin after the one-month transitional period. - Reuters
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