Ugandan govt officials quit peace talks

Ugandan government officials quit peace talks on Friday after fugitive rebel leader Joseph Kony delayed signing a final deal, casting doubt over the fate of nearly two years of tortuous negotiations.

The draft deal with Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) had been due to be signed on Thursday, but the elusive guerrilla chief asked mediators to clarify part of the text and then fired the head of his negotiating team.

“We are going back to Uganda until we are informed by the chief mediator when the LRA will be ready to sign,” Internal Affairs Minister Ruhakana Rugunda said on the remote Sudan-Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) border.

He said a separate signing ceremony by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni that had been planned for Tuesday in the south Sudanese capital, Juba, had been indefinitely postponed.

And Rugunda said that “unless circumstances significantly change”, the government had no plans to extend an earlier truce agreement between the two sides that expires next week.

Uganda’s 22-year civil war has killed tens of thousands of people, uprooted two million more and destabilised neighbouring parts of oil-rich south Sudan and mineral-rich eastern DRC.

LRA commander Kony and two of his top deputies are wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, including rape, murder and the abduction of thousands of children to serve as fighters, porters and sex slaves.

South Sudan’s Vice-President, Riek Machar, who has chaired talks between the two sides since mid-2006, said the LRA leader had been unsure how the government planned to use its courts and traditional reconciliation rituals to counter the ICC warrants.

Even if Kony does sign a final peace deal, the rebels have vowed never to disarm until the indictments are scrapped.

Elders from northern Uganda tried to meet him earlier on Friday to salvage talks to end one of Africa’s longest wars.

But it was not immediately clear if the small group of religious and cultural leaders had found Kony, who skipped planned talks with them on Thursday.

Sources involved in the peace process said the rebel chief later fired his chief negotiator, who returned to camp alone. The negotiator said he had resigned because Kony refused to see him.—Reuters

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