Juba — Elders from various counties in southern Sudan and northern Uganda on Thursday presented a statement at peace talks in Juba, alleging atrocities committed against civilians by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) and the Ugandan army.
Urging the Ugandan government and the rebels to peacefully resolve their 20-year conflict, the elders said the two warring parties should leave southern Sudan if they cannot agree a ceasefire.
"The war continues to cause a lot of suffering in southern Sudan, including abduction of children, raping of women and looting of properties, as far as forcing people to eat human flesh," according to the statement presented to the Ugandan government and the LRA delegations in Juba. "We strongly urge both parties to reach a comprehensive, lasting peace agreement to end the suffering of the people of the grassroots [...] Wee emphatically urge you to direct your forces in the field to stop molesting our people."
The elders were from Acholi region in northern Uganda and various counties in Central, Eastern and Western Equatoria States of southern Sudan.
They said the LRA had killed more than 3,298 people in both Central and Eastern Equatoria States, including 394 people hacked to death in Lolubo, hundreds killed in East and West Lokoya and 34 slaughtered in Ikotos. They allege another 1,149 were killed in Magwi, and that the rebels forced two people to eat their brother. Later they killed the two in Magwi. Other atrocities alleged included human sacrifices in Torit county, rape, abduction of children and burning of villages.
Without commenting directly on the accusations, the LRA spokesman at the talks, Obonyo Olweny, said: "We welcome the letter of the elders and chiefs from Sudan and Northern Uganda. We appreciate their message of reconcilation and concern for the peace in the area." He told IRIN in Juba on Friday that a demand by the elders to meet the LRA leader, Joseph Kony, to discuss issues raised in their statement, would be "accepted and taken seriously".
On the Ugandan army, the elders said: "The UPDF [Uganda People's Defence Force] did not fulfil their mission to south Sudan. For example, instead of following the LRA, they turned their guns to the civil population; shooting, raping and burning huts on the pretexts of chasing the LRA." The UPDF, they stated, killed 10 people in Lolubo area and two more in Madi. "At Katire in 2004, the UPDF killed three escorts assigned to lead them to the hideout of the LRA," the statement said.
Commenting on the allegations, the leader of the Ugandan delegation, who is also the internal affairs minister, Ruhakana Rugunda, said: "The UPDF are not angels on earth that we can deny what they might have committed in south Sudan or in Uganda. But we have taken note of this and it will be investigated. If proved right with evidence, those implicated will be brought to justice."
Kampala and Khartoum signed a protocol in 2002, under which Ugandan troops are allowed to pursue LRA fighters in southern Sudan. The protocol has since been renewed several times, allowing UPDF to operate over some areas of the south. A senior Ugandan military officer told IRIN that his country currently has two brigades in southern Sudan.
"The Sudanese community would not accept any more the war forced on them from a neighboring country, Uganda," the elders said. "Our leadership has taken a great step to mediate between the Uganda government and the LRA as a first step to end this war in eastern and northern Uganda."
Describing the Juba talks as "a golden opportunity" for the two parties to reach a peaceful settlement to the conflict in northern Uganda and bring peace in southern Sudan, they added: "Should the parties fail to reach an agreement, we urge both the LRA and the UPDF to immediately pull out from the soil of southern Sudan."
Meanwhile, the Ugandan government is to fly Kony's relatives and elders from Acholi region to meet him in the Democratic Republic of Congo next week in an effort to build confidence with the rebel group and facilitate the Juba peace talks.
"Kony has asked to meet his mother, while other commanders want to meet their relatives and we are arranging for this," the spokesman for the Ugandan delegation in Juba, Paddy Ankunda, said. "Though decisions taken at the peace talks will be by the LRA delegation, we think that efforts of the relatives could be supplementary. This is a confidence-building measure."
The LRA, which has fought the Ugandan government for nearly two decades, ostensibly in a bid to replace President Yoweri Museveni's administration with one based on the Ten Commandments, has bases in southern Sudan and northern DRC. Nearly two million people have been displaced by the fighting.
[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations ]