12 August 2007

Uganda: Museveni, Otunnu Reconciliation

Kampala — An attempt to reconcile former Foreign Minister Olara Otunnu and President Museveni appears to have faltered. Mr Otunnu, until recently the UN secretary general's special representative for children and armed conflict, accuses President Museveni of carrying out what he describes as "orchestrated genocide against the people of northern Uganda".

In return, the government has variously accused Mr Otunnu of being an LRA collaborator, a charge he denies. According to State House sources, the idea to reconcile the two men was originated by Mr George Piwang, who lives in the United States.

Mr Piwang is the younger brother of Archbishop Luke Orombi of the Church of Uganda.

Mr Piwang wrote a letter dated June 6 to the Principal Private Secretary to the President, Ms Amelia Kyambadde, asking her for an appointment to meet the President.

He had apparently submitted the same proposal to Mr Museveni's influential brother, Gen. Salim Saleh, with a copy to the President.

Reads part of Mr Piwang's letter: "I look forward to meeting H.E. to answer any questions he may have on my proposal. I recommend that I meet him with Rt. Rev. MacBaker Ochola II."

Mr Piwang said he preferred Bishop Ochola because the churchman had written to some friends, including Mr James A. Baker III and Ambassador Andrew Young "to help facilitate the reconciliation and peace in Uganda as envisaged".

Mr James Baker was secretary of state under the first President George Bush, and Mr Young, an African-American, was President Jimmy Carter's ambassador to the United Nations.

Although the letter does not name Mr Otunnu, Bishop Ochola on Friday said that plans to reconcile the two men were indeed underway.

"We have not yet met but I have heard about that reconciliation," Bishop Ochola said on telephone, adding that "reconciliation is a process and a necessity to bring understanding and restore relationships".

Ms Kyambadde could neither confirm nor deny receiving the letter.

"If it's a private correspondence, why should I release it to Monitor?" she said.

Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, the minister of internal affairs who is currently leading the government delegation to the Juba peace talks with the LRA rebels, said he had not heard of the efforts.

Dr Rugunda, who has cordial relations with Mr Otunnu, added: "I would encourage efforts that promote reconciliation of any conflicting or differing parties. Reconciliation between Olara Otunnu and President Museveni is perfectly in order and should be encouraged. We need a multi-pronged effort to ensure there is harmony and reconciliation in our country."

But it appears Mr Otunnu does not want to talk to President Museveni.

Responding to an email from Sunday Monitor, Mr Otunnu wrote: "I am not aware of a letter dated 6 June, from Mr George Piwang-Jalobo, to the PPS to the President. I am certainly not party to any projects that may have been described therein."

He added: "I did see a communication from Mr George Piwang-Jalobo, dated 19 January 2007, that he circulated to a number of people. Unfortunately, I was not consulted beforehand, and therefore I did not give my acceptance to the ideas and scenarios for reconciliation proposed in that communication."

The Chairman of Acholi Parliamentary Group, Mr Livingstone Okello-Okello, was also sceptical, saying: "I met Mr Otunnu in June and he did not indicate to me that he would reconcile with Museveni."

Said Aswa MP Reagan Okumu: "The President has been attempting several times but Olara Otunnu cannot reconcile with Museveni. At one time Mr Eriya Kategaya tried to talk to Otunnu and they promised him to take ministry of foreign affairs."

Mr Okumu said such a reconciliation would help Mr Museveni gain acceptance in Acholi where he has often lost elections.

Mr Olala Otunnu's brief profile

Mr Otunnu was born in Mucwini, Chua County, Kitgum District in September 1950.

He attended Makerere University (where he was president of the students guild); Oxford University; and Harvard Law School.

In the 1970s, as a student leader and later as secretary general of Uganda Freedom Movement, he played a key role in the resistance against the regime of Idi Amin.

After the overthrow of the Obote II government in July 1985, Mr Otunnu was appointed minister of foreign affairs by the short-lived military junta.

He took on citizenship of Ivory Coast following his stinging attacks against Mr Museveni's regime.

While serving the UN, Mr Kofi Annan, the then secretary general, thanked Mr Otunnu "for his splendid services to the Organisation and, in particular, for raising the profile of United Nations efforts to protect children in armed conflict".

Mr Otunnu founded and currently heads the LBL Foundation for Children, a New York-based non-profit organisation committed to promoting education and healing for children around the world, especially those whose lives have been dislocated by war

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