Kampala and Gulu — NEGOTIATORS for the rebel Lord's Resistance Army have agreed to return to Juba to talk peace after staying away for months, the government's lead negotiator said yesterday.
Dr Ruhakana Rugunda told reporters that the Uganda peace delegation and the LRA negotiators had "agreed to resume peace talks." Although previous commitments have been made to resume the talks, the rebels have often reneged and extended their stay away from the negotiating table.
However, Dr Rugunda said a date is yet to be set when the talks, mediated by the government of South Sudan, would resume, adding that a time frame of two weeks had been "suggested" within which the two parties would meet to agree on the date.
Dr Rugunda's revelations are the direct result of a meeting he held with the rebels, brokered by the new U.N. envoy for northern Uganda conflict Joachim Chissano. Mr Chissano, Dr Rugunda and Riek Machar, the South Sudan vice-president, met the fugitive LRA leader Joseph Kony on Sunday in his hideout in Ri-Kwangba, one of two designated assembly points in South Sudan.
The meeting was aimed at restarting the talks. In January, the LRA walked out of the talks in the South Sudan capital, Juba, saying they feared for their safety after Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir threatened to "get rid" of the rebels from his country. They demanded that a new venue be found in another country.
It emerged yesterday that Kony was reportedly pleased with Mr Chissano's intervention, and called the former Mozambican president "a saviour." According to Pader LC5 Chairman Peter Odok W'Ochieng who attended the meeting in Ri-Kwangba, Kony said that because of Chisanno's guarantees and assurances, he was now convinced that the peace talks can resume.
At the meeting, Kony set 18 conditions that Kampala must meet before his negotiators talk peace. At the top of the list were demands for an increase in allowances paid to the rebel negotiating team, a guarantee for their security and the involvement of the Khartoum government in the talks.
Prof Morris Ogenga Latigo, who attended the Sunday meeting, told Daily Monitor yesterday that some rebels had offered him a guarantee of their presence in Juba.
However, Dr Rugunda told journalists that the new demands were mainly "administrative issues" which could be ironed out. He said it was agreed that another meeting be held to conclude "what was started at Ri-Kwangba."
Dr Rugunda was addressing a press briefing at the Media Centre about his historic meeting with Kony. It was the first time a senior government minister came face to face with the rebel leader.
Responding to a question whether the rebels had backtracked on their demand for a change of venue and mediation of the talks, Dr Rugunda said the LRA had "amicably" agreed to return to Juba.
"The question of venue and mediation are no longer sticky points," he said, adding the question of allowances was an administrative matter that could be discussed.