New Vision (Kampala)

10 April 2008

Uganda: Rebel Chief Refuses to Sign Peace Deal

Ri-Kwangba, Sudan — LRA chief Joseph Kony yesterday refused to sign the final peace agreement, demanding clarification of two issues in the document.

Kony wants more explanation on mato-oput (Acholi traditional justice) and the operation of the special division of the High Court that is to prosecute rebel fighters, chief mediator Dr. Riek Machar told journalists at the Congo-Sudan border town of Ri-Kwangba, the venue for the signing.

"It looks like we are not going to have a signature today," Machar announced late in the afternoon as dignitaries waited in the bush for Kony's arrival.

Speaking through his main man Nyekorach Matsanga, Kony said he could sign the document today or tomorrow once he is clear on the two issues. Kony, who was said to be in the vicinity, had travelled from the Central African Republic where he recently relocated.

Machar immediately dispatched Acholi traditional and religious leaders along with Matsanga to meet Kony in the Ri-Kwangba bushes and brief him.

The two sides have already agreed that "minor crimes" committed by rebels during the war be tried under mato-oput and "serious crimes" by the special High Court division.

"If Kony requires an explanation, that's absolutely legitimate. We are happy he is willing to continue dialogue and seek clarification because it's a matter that deals with his fate," said the chief government negotiator, Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda.

No one should be blamed for Kony's delay to sign the peace agreement, he noted, because both sides had played their part.

"It's our target to get total peace. The peace process is advancing."

Rugunda's deputy at the talks, international relations minister Okello Oryem said by braving the forested region from the CAR, Kony had demonstrated his commitment to peace.

A white tent with plastic chairs and tables will serve as the venue for signing ceremony when, or if, Kony shows up today.

Diplomats, opposition leader in Parliament Prof. Ogenga Latigo, Acholi parliamentary group chairman Okello Okello and several Acholi, Lango and Teso MPs were among the assembled guests.

When Machar announced Kony's decision, a huge dull cloud hung over the remote Ri-Kwangba village where security was tight.

LRA fighters stood guard with their AK 47 assault rifles. The Sudan Liberation Movement Army soldiers took care of the guests.

Kony, Okot Odhiambo and Domonic Ogwen are indicted at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Signing the peace agreement could save them from the trial.

The Government promised to ask the ICC to drop the case and allow mat oput and the local courts try the rebels. But, the ICC insists the warrants are valid.

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