Juba — Internal Affairs Minister Dr Ruhakana Rugunda arrived in Juba on Friday at the head of an eight man delegation that will will face Joseph Kony's 15 person delegation in the highly billed peace talks between the rebels and the government.
Rugunda's plane touched down at Juba International Airport at ten minutes to one, and he proceeded to give a press conference at the airport.
Rugunda said that the first item on the agenda of the talks is to seek an immediate ceasefire between the UPDF and the LRA, and then the rest will follow.
Rugunda expresses optimism over the talks. "We would not have come if we were not satisfied with the LRA peace delegation," he said.
The talks were scheduled to kick of at 3.30 local time at the Juba Parliament Buildings.
Rugunda cautioned against speculation. "The progress of the talks will depend on the amount of work, let us not speculate," the minister said.
Meanwhile, Angelo Izama, Agness Nandutu & Hussein Bogere report that on Wednesday, the UN Secretary General Koffi Anan added his voice to those calling for the talks to go ahead as the most pragmatic way forward even if he reminded the governments of Southern Sudan and Uganda of the status of LRA leaders as indictees of the global court.
"The fact that five leaders of LRA, including Joseph Kony and Vincent Otti have been indicted by the International Criminal Court, was believed to have made them less approachable for negotiations. Nevertheless, recent contacts between the Government of Southern Sudan and Messrs.
Kony and Otti, with the apparent knowledge of the Government of Uganda, suggest the possibility of a negotiated solution with LRA" Annan said in a statement. However he said he had left it to the UN Security Council to create a mechanism, including a Panel of Experts, to look into LRA sources of funding as suggested by some members states of the United Nations.
The Secretary General noted that Uganda was reluctant to accept the idea of a Special UN Envoy to deal with the LRA problem if his or her mandate would extend to " domestic issues". The Uganda government has refused calls to declare the 20-year conflict a national disaster and has prioritized a military solution to the rebellion, a fact critics said is behind the failure of several attempts at a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
The Juba talks, the first significant talks to be held outside of Uganda with the LRA are a watershed moment in the history of the conflict. They also come at a time when LRA have shifted operations into the DRC, widening the regional implications of a failure of the talks to succeed.
One of the key anticipated demands of the Lords Resistance Army, that arrest warrants for its top leaders by the International Criminal Court be withdrawn may not be met even as the rebel and government delegation roll up their sleeves to begin landmark talks intended to end the 20 year Northern Uganda conflict. The talks kick off this weekend and sources say may last up to one week.
After meeting Uganda's Security Minister and former Attorney General Amama Mbabazi at the Hague on Wednesday, ICC Prosecutor Moreno Ocampo said the "warrants remain in effect". Ocampo in a statement said the " Government of Uganda did not ask for any withdrawal of the warrants of arrest".
This contradicts press reports attributed to government sources which said Mbabazi's trip to the Hague was meant to convince the court to lift the warrants against LRA leaders in order to give the talks a chance to succeed.
"It is the view of the Office of the Prosecutor and the Government of Uganda that justice and peace have worked together thus far and can continue to work together" Moreno said inspite of the clash in purposes between the court and the negotiators meeting in Juba.
The position of the international justice system has been at odds with that of the Ugandan government ever since the Kampala government accepted peace talks with the rebels sposored by the new Government of Southern Sudan.
The ICC and international NGO's have protested an amnesty offered to the rebels as part of the talks and have disapproved of any efforts to lift the arrest warrants, even if it was Uganda which initiated the investigation into LRA for possible crimes against humanity.
The head of the governnent negotiating team, Internal Affairs Minister Ruhakana Rugunda left for Juba yesterday. Speaking to Daily Monitor before his departure, Rugunda said the Ugandan team would approach the talks with an open mind.
" We still don't have a specific programme but we will work everything out when we get to Juba" Rugunda said.
The peace talks will aim at a ceasefire agreement in the short term. However the Ugandan delegation will not meet LRA leader Joseph Kony or his deputy face to face.
Southern Sudanese Vice President Riek Machar on Thursday returned from the DR Congo-Sudan border where he had gone to meet LRA leadership with news that the top leaders, both indicted by the ICC will not be attending the talks.