25 March 2008

Uganda: LRA Rebels Sign Peace on April 3

Juba — THE negotiating teams of the Government and the LRA have set April 3 as the new tentative date for the signing of the final peace agreement. The parties, in consultation with chief mediator Riek Machar, however, agreed that the cessation of hostilities agreement would not be extended beyond March 28.

"We are not extending the cessation of hostilities agreement but we expect to continue respecting the truce in a manner of a gentleman's agreement," said government spokesman Capt. Chris Magezi.

The parties, headed by internal affairs minister Ruhakana Rugunda, for the Government and David Nyekorach Matsanga, for the LRA, were still discussing the final text of the agreement and finalising the implementation schedule.

The LRA team will travel today to Ri-Kwangba for the final consultation with the High Command. They are expected to return with Joseph Kony or anybody authorised by the rebel high command for the signing.

The postponement of the signing date is also meant to enable Machar finalise preparations for the ceremony, which is likely to be attended by President Yoweri Museveni and attract dignitaries from and outside Africa.

Invited are the presidents of the African observer countries to the talks, Kenya, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique and South Africa, as well as UN envoy Joaquim Chissano. Others are diplomats from the US, the European Union, Norway and Canada.

Meanwhile, about 100 religious, cultural and political leaders from the conflict-affected northern and eastern Uganda arrived in Juba yesterday to meet the negotiating teams as a confidence building measure. About 60 of them are expected to accompany the LRA delegation to Ri-Kwangba.

Gulu district chairman Norbert Mao, who is leading a team, said the final peace deal could be signed in the absence of LRA leader Joseph Kony.

Retired Kitgum bishop McLeod Baker Ochola added that Kony could give power of attorney to Matsanga to sign the pact on his behalf if he fears being arrested and handed over to the ICC. But as preparations for a comprehensive peace agreement are being finalised, LRA rebels continue attacking villages in their host countries.

Last week, they abducted another 70 Sudanese civilians, according to the UN radio in Congo, Radio Okapi. They also held hostage a Congolese village chief on their way from Garamba to the Central African Republic.

"The inhabitants of Doruma, 210 km of Dungu, have abandoned their village last Tuesday and Wednesday and took refuge for the atrocities of the Ugandan rebels of the LRA," according to Radio Okapi.

Quoting the civil society, it said the rebels had looted the village of Gangala and abducted its chief, who was released after seven hours.

"According to the Justice and Peace Commission of the diocese of Dungu, the same group operated on Monday in the area of Ezo, on the other side of the border (in South Sudan), where they abducted 70 people."

The civil society has requested the presence of Congolese troops at the border with Sudan to protect the population, the radio added.

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