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Ugandan Government, LRA Prepare to Sign Cease-Fire

The Ugandan government and a rebel group operating in the north are putting together an agreement to stop their fighting, in preparation for peace talks to end almost two decades of insurgency.

A former minister in the Ugandan government, Betty Bigombe, who is spearheading negotiations between the government and the Lord's Resistance Army rebels, told VOA Thursday the two sides are on the verge of signing a cease-fire agreement to end their hostilities.

"I'm just hoping that we will have one that's agreed upon by sometime tomorrow," said Betty Bigombe.

Ms. Bigombe said the cease-fire would likely cover large parts of northern Uganda.

A limited cease-fire that the government announced last month expires Friday. The government says the new cease-fire, which applies to a corridor near the Sudanese border, would enable the LRA rebels to gather for eventual peace negotiations.

Army Spokesman Major Shaban Bantariza described to VOA some of the issues the two sides are ironing out.

"Cease-fires are arrived at from talks," said Shaban Bantariza. "For example, a cease-fire in order to do what? Probably for the LRA, to come out and get assembled somewhere, and get received, maybe get integrated, get screened. So, now, between today and tomorrow, they are working on a framework that would make clear those provisions of what is required by government and LRA, and by both."

Ugandan Interior Minister Ruhakana Rugunda told VOA the cessation of hostilities is meant to pave the way for future peace talks.

"The rebels and government delegations agreed that war in northern Uganda must end, and that the concerns of the Lord's Resistance Army would be addressed by government in negotiations and a peaceful environment that will be taking place shortly," he said.

Mr. Rugunda said the two sides are discussing timetables and who is to be included in the talks.

He called this week's discussions "a major achievement for our country," and said he was looking forward to people leading normal, productive lives in the north and concentrating on development instead of war.

For 18 years, the Lord's Resistance Army has been fighting to overthrow the Ugandan government. More than one million people have been displaced. The group is known for attacking civilians and kidnapping children to use them as soldiers or sex slaves.

Over the years, there have been several unsuccessful attempts to hold peace talks between the government and the rebels to end the violence. Hopes are running high that these latest face-to-face meetings will succeed.