Signing of Ugandan peace deal delayed amid chaos

The signing of a Ugandan deal to end 20 years of war was postponed in chaos on Friday as government delegates quit, the rebel negotiator resigned and fugitive Joseph Kony failed to show.

The planned ceremony on the remote Sudan-Democratic Republic of Congo border seemed delayed for at least days after the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) admitted that commander Kony, who is hiding from an international arrest warrant, was nowhere in sight.

”We came yesterday [Thursday] for the signing of a final peace agreement with Joseph Kony. He did not show up as expected,” Internal Affairs Minister and chief government negotiator Ruhakana Rugunda told reporters at Ri-Kwangba.

”We are going back until we are advised by the [Sudanese] mediator on what to do,” added Rugunda.

The minister said a ceremony for the Ugandan president to ink the peace deal in the southern Sudan capital of Juba on April 14, which was scheduled after Kony was supposed to sign the accord on Thursday, had been delayed.

He cast doubt on whether Uganda would now extend a ceasefire agreement with the LRA that expires on April 16, despite both government and rebel negotiators being at pains to stress that the stop-start peace process was ”progressing”.

”Unless the conditions significantly change, the government of Uganda has no plans of signing this extension,” Rugunda said.

The chief mediator, southern Sudan Vice-President Riek Machar, said Kony requested further consultations before signing on Friday.

But by afternoon the Ugandan government delegation and the chief LRA negotiator, who were staying at a muddy, United Nations-run tent compound with the Sudanese mediators and journalists, had left the jungle town of Ri-Kwangba.

The chief LRA negotiator, David Matsanga, announced his resignation. ”There is no sign of Joseph Kony. I learned that he is around this country but it may take him seven days to come,” he told reporters.

His acting replacement, James Obita, attributed the chaos to a breakdown in communication between the rebel commander and Matsanga.

”He [Kony] says he is committed to the peace process and committed to signing a peace agreement; the only problem was the breakdown in communication with the chief negotiator Matsanga,” Obita told reporters.

He listed a barrage of excuses: Kony intended to meet tribal elders on Thursday and sign the deal days later; Kony took fright because of journalists and diplomats; Kony was under pressure from his commanders over the future.

The LRA gave no new date but said leaders from northern Uganda, which bore the brunt of the war, and Sudanese mediators would stay on in Ri-Kwangba until they had sorted out Kony’s concerns on the implications of the peace deal.

The tent compound, where the mediators, the LRA and Ugandan government teams had stayed, turned to mud on Friday as heavy rain fell after dark.

The LRA is notorious for having raped and mutilated civilians, forcibly enlisting child soldiers and massacred thousands during what has been one of Africa’s longest-running conflicts.

Kony and his fellow commanders are in hiding to avoid arrest following warrants from the International Criminal Court (ICC).

One diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he believed it was important that the implications of the agreement were outlined to Kony’s men before the rebel leader inked the deal.

The talks were previously delayed by the LRA’s insistence that ICC warrants against Kony and three of his lieutenants be lifted before a deal was signed. However, even with an agreement, Kony is not expected to return to Kampala.

Twenty years of fighting have left tens of thousands dead and displaced two million people, mainly in northern Uganda. Several thousands have also been killed in southern Sudan, where the LRA have camps.

A ceasefire was struck in August 2006, paving the way for peace talks in Juba that have dragged on for more than a year and a half.

Kony, a semi-illiterate former altar boy, took charge in 1988 of a regional rebellion among northern Uganda’s ethnic Acholi minority.

The original rebellion was mounted in 1986 by Holy Spirit Movement commander Alice Lakwena, who told her fighters she could rely on magic potions to turn enemy bullets into stones.

Since the signing of a truce almost two years ago, the war-scarred nation has engaged in aggressive reforms to attract investors and revamp its image. — Sapa-AFP

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