12 April 2008

Uganda: Govt Suspends Indefinitely Signing Peace Deal With LRA

Nairobi — Former Ugandan Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) negotiator David Nyekorach-Matsanga addresses a press conference in Nabanga on the Sudan-Congo border on Friday after his sacking. Photos/ REUTERS

The much-anticipated signing of the peace agreement between the government and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebels has been put off indefinitely.

"We are going back to Juba (from Ri-Kwangba) and then to Kampala because the signing of the Final Peace Agreement has not taken place," Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, the leader of the government peace delegation said early on Friday afternoon.

"The scheduled signing by President Museveni on Tuesday in Juba has been put off until we have communication from the chief mediator (Dr Riek Machar)."

He added: "Unless circumstances significantly change, the government has no plans to extend the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement."

The agreement expires on April 15, the day the deal would have taken effect after President Museveni's signing.

The failure of Mr Kony to sign the Final Peace Agreement, painstakingly negotiated in Juba in South Sudan since July 2006, will come as a big blow especially to the people of northern Uganda who hoped the deal would bring permanent peace after two decades of war.

It was unclear by press time what the next steps would be.

With Dr Rugunda, who also is Uganda's minister of Internal Affairs, saying the government does not have plans to extend the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement, war could easily resume.

The war in northern Uganda killed tens of thousands of people, displaced 2 million more into squalid camps and destabilised neighbours Sudan and DR Congo.

Mr Kony, who has not been publicly seen by many of the dignitaries gathered in Ri-Kwangba on the South Sudan-DR Congo border, was supposed to have signed the final deal on Thursday. He did not because he wanted clarification on the kind of justice process he and his fighters would be subjected to.

There was hope he would sign on Friday. Instead, on Thursday, he fired his chief mediator, Dr David Nyekorach-Matsanga, in a move that heralded the Friday failure.

Dr Matsanga was escorted out of the LRA camp at Ri-Kwangba by the rebel fighters on the orders of Mr Kony.

He consequently spent Thursday night with the Uganda government peace delegation and the mediation team.

The reason for Dr Matsanga's sacking is not known. But The Sudan Tribune newspaper reported in its online edition that Mr Kony had dissolved his peace talks team because they "have been misled in the solution to resolve the conflict".

The paper based its report on an email press statement signed by Mr Kony but added that it could not independently verify its authenticity.

The paper reported that Mr Kony had denounced the final peace document because it was the result of a lack of "credible environment of dialogue", and that Dr Machar was "unneutral" while UN special envoy Joaquim Chissano was incompetent and lacked "expertise and experience in all fields of Conflict Resolution".

Dr Matsanga is the second LRA chief negotiator to be dismissed.

His predecessor Martin Ojul was axed on January 23 for allegedly making money out of the peace negotiations.

In anger, Dr Matsanga revealed some of the tactics the LRA delegation has been using.

"I am tired of telling Kony's lies to the world," Dr Matsanga told Saturday Monitor in Ri-Kwangba yesterday.

"I am very sorry I lied to all of you when I was asking for extensions (of the signing of the peace agreement) for four times. Kony called me four days ago and told me to bring his sister, his uncle, and his wife but when I took them to his base in Garamba (on the DR Congo side), he was not there. I was meant to understand that he was very far away and it would take him days to walk to Ri-Kwangba. As Ugandans, we have squandered this opportunity to have peace."

Earlier, elders from northern Uganda tried to meet Kony to salvage long-running peace talks.

Religious and cultural leaders who went to explain the peace document failed to find Kony on Thursday at an agreed spot near Ri-Kwangba.

"The developments of yesterday and today are a challenge to the peace process," Dr Rugunda told Reuters.

Kony's 22-year rebellion has destabilised northern Uganda and neighbouring parts of southern Sudan and eastern Congo.

Kony, who is wanted for multiple war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, did not appear at Thursday's planned signing ceremony in Ri-Kwangba.

South Sudan's Vice President Riek Machar, who has chaired talks between the two sides since mid-2006, said the LRA leader was unsure how the government planned to use its courts and traditional reconciliation rituals to counter the ICC warrants.

ICC prosecutors accuse the LRA boss and two deputies of crimes including rape, murder and the abduction of thousands of children to serve as fighters, porters and sex slaves.

Even if Kony does sign a final peace deal, the rebels have vowed never to disarm until the indictments are scrapped.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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