As Uganda’s peace talks or continue between the government and LRA rebels, many people are asking whether the meetings will be productive? The current round of talks, which are mediated by the Government of Southern Sudan, began in Juba, Sudan, on July 14. From Kampala, Uganda, Herbert Were spoke with some analysts and officials about the talks.
Right from the beginning, the Ugandan government has stressed its desire for a conclusive end to the Lords Resistance Army insurgency that has ravaged northern Uganda for the past twenty years. The talks, that are now taking place in Juba were initiated by the SPLA government of South Sudan. This, after contacting the LRA rebels who are now holed up in Ngaramba National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The LRA went there after Ugandan government troops flushed them out of their hideouts in southern Sudan and northern Uganda.
Just before departing for the talks last week, the leader of the Ugandan peace team and Minister of Internal Affairs Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda said obtaining a peace deal was paramount.
“While in Juba, we shall go for substance. We shall not go for semantics, and really our interest is to ensure that the conflict that has been going on in northern Uganda comes to a speedy end and so our people both in Northern Uganda and also in Southern Sudan can live in peace, in security and enjoy productive lives.”
Some are doubtful the talks will be successful.
One week into the talks, the Uganda delegation staged the first walk out in protest at the LRA’s insistence on safe corridors and zones in Northern Uganda, before they can sign a ceasefire.
Emmy Alio is a war correspondent for the government owned New Vision newspaper. Alio has covered the conflict in northern Uganda for many years as well as the past failed attempts at a negotiated peace; he says there is a pattern. According to Alio, talks are a LRA ruse to gain some breathing room from government military pressure.
“I have covered the LRA for 13 years, and I have come to learn a lot about them. In the past whenever they were faced with hardship in the battle front, they ran to the peace process. And normally they make the talks drag out. That was the case in 1994, and that was the case in 2004. And in those situations they were in very, very weak positions and they used that period to arm themselves. But this time, the peace talks have a different perspective.”
What’s different, he says, is the peace between the SPLA in southern Sudan and the Khartoum government. In the past, the LRA got much of its support from Khartoum; that has now changed.
There’s a second cause for doubt. The International Criminal Court in the Hague says it wants to prosecute LRA Joseph Koney and other rebel leaders. But the government of Uganda says it will not prosecute the LRA’s leaders if they turn themselves in.
Mr. Okello Oryem is Uganda’s minister of state for foreign affairs. He is also a member of the Uganda team at the Juba talks.
“We intend, the Uganda government in the words of the president of Uganda, intends to stick by what the president said very clearly -- that we are going to give amnesty, 100% amnesty to Joseph Kony and those indicted. And the government of Uganda does not intend to go back on those words, and the government under no circumstances will it try and do a Charles Taylor on Joseph Koney and that is the position and it is very clear.”
Makerere University History professor, Ndebesa Mwambutsya, believes the ICC should change its mind.
“The ICC should consider that we also have our different cultures, traditions, and the ICC must not operate outside that context in which the war has been taking place as if they are just operating in a vacuum.”
The Acholi people who have been the main victims of the war are demanding peace and an end to the conflict at any cost. But they are also troubled by the inconsistencies shrouding the talks. A key issue is the absence of the five top LRA leaders in the talks, including Joseph Koney and his deputy Vincent Otti.
Nahman Ojwe is the former Chairman of Kitgum district council, one of the districts that has borne the heaviest brunt of the war.
“This time we hope that if the negotiators are genuine, then something will come out of the talks. But if the negotiators just jump on the boat after hearing (leader of Southern Sudan) Salva Kiir support the proposals – and then try to hijack (the talks) for their own selfish ends, then it may be just like one of the past (failed) attempts (at peace talks).”
But according to the independent daily, The Monitor, the government is quietly contacting the top LRA leader for separate negotiations. The government realizes the importance of engaging them as the real leaders of the LRA if this new round of peace talks is not to fail.
The leader of the Ugandan team in Juba says the government is keen on dealing with the decision makers in the LRA so there is no back and forth movement as the LRA delegation seeks to consult the real leaders who are holed up in Ngaramba National Park in the DRC.
For many Acholi peace is the desired outcome; and they’ll support whatever method helps achieve that end.
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