22 January 2007

Uganda: Juba Asks 4 Countries to Join Peace Talks

Juba — South Sudan has invited four countries to join the peace negotiations between the Uganda government and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in Juba, South Sudan Vice President Riek Machar said.

South Sudan is the mediator of the talks. Dr Machar said the countries would join the talks as external observers and guarantors of any deal that will be signed.

He identified the countries as South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique."We asked for guarantors, so these countries will be external observers at the same time the guarantors of the peace talks," he said.

The leader of the government peace negotiating team Ruhakana Rugunda met Dr Machar in Juba on Saturday to consult on the peace talks that are being boycotted by the LRA on claims that Sudan is not a neutral country. They also claim Dr Machar, the chief mediator, is pro-Uganda government.

The rebels last week said they would not continue talks with the Ugandan government unless another country is found to host them. They want Kenya or South Africa as venues.

LRA's second in command Vincent Otti said they were concerned about their security after Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir vowed to "get rid of the LRA from Sudan."

The Chief of Defence Forces Gen. Aronda Nyakairima and Uganda's Consul General in Juba Busho Ndinyenka accompanied Dr Rugunda to the meeting with Dr Machar.

The trio arrived in Juba on Saturday on a chartered plane and returned to Kampala on the same day. The meeting between Dr Machar and Rugunda was closed to the media. But according to sources, Dr Rugunda delivered a special message from President Yoweri Museveni to Dr Machar and South Sudan President Salva Kiir expressing support for Juba as the venue for the talks and their role in the meditation.

Dr Machar said the LRA have requested a meeting with Acholi parliamentarians, religious, cultural and local leaders in Nairobi, Kenya on Wednesday.

"The LRA peace delegation has requested a meeting with the parliamentarians, cultural, religious and political leaders on January 24, most likely we will give the talks at least a week to resume," he said. He said the talks are still on and should resume by January 29. But LRA delegation chairman Martin Ojul wrote to Dr Machar on Saturday rejecting his mediation role and Juba as the venue. This has created further uncertainity over whether and where the talks will resume.

"We are therefore respectfully communicating our formal position to you and the Government of South Sudan, essentially, that LRA/M has discontinued its participation in the Peace talks if Sudan remains the venue and His Excellency Lt. General Dr. Riek Machar remains the mediator for the Uganda Peace Talks," Mr Ojul's letter read in part.

Mr Ojul and delegation member Godfrey Ayoo denied asking for the meeting with leaders from Acholi to be held in Nairobi. "What the VP is telling you is not true. We have not requested for the meeting. They are not coming here either," Mr Ojul said. On the issue of external observers," he said, "Our position has not changed. We shall not honour what Machar says."

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