21 January 2007

Uganda: LRA Quit Juba Talks, Govt Rejects Rebels' Demands

Juba — The LRA have said they will not return to Juba for any further peace talks with the Uganda Government.

"We are instructed by our deputy leader Vincent Otti that LRA/M does not want Dr Riek Machar as mediator and that peace talks in Sudan are closed forever," the LRA chairman Mr Martin Ojul said in a statement sent to Sunday Monitor on Friday.

Ojul also addressed a press conference in Nairobi, Kenya on Friday.

He said that due to security reasons, the LRA top leadership declined to meet UN Special Envoy for Northern Uagnda Joaquim Chissano, the former president of Mozambique.

"Nevertheless, in a telephone communication our deputy leader Lt. Gen. Vincent Otti outlined to him Mr Chissano] reasons for which LRA/M would not resume the peace talks in Sudan," Mr Ojul said.

He said they had since sent a letter to the leader of the government delegation Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, formally informing the Government of Uganda that Sudan was no longer acceptable as the venue for the peace talks. He said that in the letter they had indicated that the LRA/M doesn't accept Dr Machar as the mediator in the talks.

"Nonetheless, in the letter to Dr Rugunda, LRA/M invited the Government of Uganda to accept the change of venue of the talks," Ojul added.

He said that on Thursday night, the LRA/M delegation received a letter dated January 17, signed by Dr Machar inviting members of LRA delegation back to Juba for resumption of talks on January 22.

"This [Friday] morning, LRA/M formally wrote back informing Government of South Sudan and Dr Riek Machar that LRA/M will neither resume talks in Juba nor participate in talks anywhere in Sudan, not even with a new mediator rumoured to have been appointed by GOSS [Government of South Sudan]," the LRA lead negotiator said.

He said that though the LRA appreciate Dr Machar's offer to withdraw from the talks as chief mediator, the LRA/M "views this as an inducement for them to return to Juba".

"We would like to inform GOSS, Government of Uganda, governments of East Africa, members of Igad, and the international community, that LRA/M will only resume negotiations in a new venue outside Sudan, preferably, Kenya or South Africa," Mr Ojul said. However, Dr Ruhakana Rugunda said that Juba remains the most appropriate venue.

"Government has no plans of shifting the talks from Juba to any other town like Nairobi or Johannesburg which the LRA suggests as possible areas. My appeal to the LRA is that they should reconsider getting back to Juba as soon as possible so that we can expeditiously conclude a peace agreement that will finally end the conflict in northern Uganda," Dr Rugunda said.

He said the peace process has made substantive progress under the leadership of South Sudan government and that government now awaits the re-consideration of LRA's High Command to send back their delegation to Juba.

Mr Ojul said: "LRA/M has appealed to the current chairman of Igad His Excellency Mwai Kibaki, President of Kenya, to facilitate the talks by finding a new venue for the resumption of the peace talks, preferably in Kenya or even in South Africa."

Mr Ojul claimed the LRA has learnt that GOSS intended to use the Uganda peace talks in Juba to "completely disable the LRA/M before implementing the ICC warrants of arrest against the four LRA commanders.

He said the LRA is "very concerned about how UN funds meant for the talks are being abused". "We wonder whether this practice of embezzling donor funds for the peace process is condoned by the UN. The GOSS personnel manning the peace talks in Juba compromised their positions with the Kampala regime," Mr Ojul charged.

The South Sudan government is yet to respond to the allegations.

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