31 January 2008

Uganda: U.S., EU Join Juba Peace Talks

Juba — THE US and the European Union yesterday joined the South Sudan mediated talks between Kampala and the rebel Lord's Resistance Army as observers, the chief mediator, Dr Riek Machar, announced at the resumption of the talks in Juba.

The entry of US and the EU brings the number of foreign observers to the peace talks to eight. This is a big boost to the peace process aimed at ending the 20 year-old rebel insurgency in northern Uganda, Dr Machar who is also the South Sudan Vice-President, said at a mini ceremony marking the resumption of the negotiations in Juba yesterday.

South Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania and the United Nations through its representative agencies in Uganda and Sudan have been the other international observers. International observers joined the talks at the urging of the rebels.

Dr Machar said: "This is an addition to the peace process; it is an indication that the whole world wants Uganda to be peaceful. The observers assist the mediator. They help the parties when there are difficult issues and also help the parties to come out with a position."

Both Uganda's lead negotiator Dr Ruhakana Rugunda and LRA's Dr Nyekorach Matsanga welcomed the US and EU entry.

"We welcome the US and the European Union as observers, this is an additional momentum so that the people who have lived in the camps in Northern Uganda can go back to their homes," Dr. Rugunda said.

Dr Matsanga, said: "I am very happy that the Americans have come on board. This makes the peace negotiations stronger."

Dr Machar said he was happy that the peace talks have resumed after a long spell in which many things happened including the killing of LRA's deputy commander Vincent Otti.

The two parties signed an extension to the ceasefire agreement which effectively expires today( January 31) to Febuary 29.

But a tough talking Matsanga, accused DRC and the government of planning to attack the LRA as the two peace delegations are negotiating in Juba.

"It is utterly shocking and unbelievable that as we are reconvening in Juba to discuss with a view of working out finer details of the agreement some forces are meeting to plan how to launch attacks against LRA forces. We condemn in the strongest possible terms the threats of planned attacks against LRA forces," Dr Matsanga said.

But Dr Rugunda, who had earlier delivered a reconciliatory message, said the extension of the truce should allay LRA's suspicion because it is a sign that the government is committed to a peaceful end to the conflict.

According to Dr Matsanga, LRA leader Joseph Kony told him to inform the ceremony that he is not carrying out recruitment or making preparations to wage war in "Uganda or elsewhere as it is being alleged".

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