The Monitor (Kampala)

Uganda: S. Africa, Kenya Join Juba Peace Talks

Kampala — SOUTH Africa, Kenya and Mozambique have agreed to join the South Sudan mediated peace talks in Juba.

The trio joins the talks meant to end the 20 year rebel insurgency in northern Ugandan on the mediation side.

The call for the three to join the mediation team, led by South Sudan Vice President Riek Machar, was a major condition the LRA set before they return to the negotiating table.

State Minister for International Affairs Henry Okello Oryem yesterday said the three countries have agreed to send representatives to join the peace talks slated to resume on April 13.

"Kenya, South Africa and Mozambique, with the invitation of President Joachim Chissano, have agreed to join the mediation team in Juba," Mr Oryem said yesterday. Mr Chissano, a former president of Mozambique, is now the UN Secretary General's representative for northern Uganda.

The LRA pulled out of the peace talks in south Sudan's capital Juba last month, citing security fears after Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir threatened to "get rid of the LRA from Sudan".

For the peace talks to resume, they demanded a retraction of the statement from Sudanese authorities, a complete overhaul of the peace talk's secretariat in Juba and improved welfare in terms of allowances for the LRA delegates.

Mr Oryem said, "The first session will be chaired by Mr Chissano because it was for his effort that the mediation, secretariat and the monitoring teams were beefed up."

Measures to restore LRA confidence initially included expanding Riek Machar's mediating team, whom the LRA distrust, with delegates from five other African countries. The LRA negotiators welcomed the move as "a positive development."

"For all this time this is what we were asking for and if those countries have come on board, that is a welcome and positive development," LRA spokesman Godfrey Ayoo said by telephone from the Kenyan capital Nairobi. The entire LRA peace team has in Nairobi there since December. last year when the talks were last adjourned.

"On our part, we are ready to meet the (Uganda) government and the mediator to continue searching for lasting peace in northern Uganda."

Mr Chissano has held two meetings with the LRA leader Joseph Kony in the Congolese jungle of Garamba, a move widely seen as a catalyst for the resumption of the talks.

But the International Criminal Court (ICC), which issued arrest warrants for Kony and four other commanders, has rejected calls to drop them paving way for the talks. People from Northern Ugandan want the LRA leaders to undergo traditional "Mato Oput" justice, a reconciliation ceremony, as an alternative to trials at The Hague.

The Uganda government says it would be satisfied with an alternative traditional system of justice to deal with LRA alleged war crimes, which include killing civilians, mutilating victims and kidnapping children to use as fighters and sex-slaves.

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