United Nations humanitarian aid chief Jan Egeland Tuesday said the current peace process in northern Uganda is the first real chance for the country to end its almost two decades of war. Egeland, who is on a visit to Africa, also called for the expansion of humanitarian and development efforts in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Egeland told reporters in Nairobi that members of the elusive Lord's Resistance Army rebel group, blamed for horrendous atrocities in the north, are coming out of hiding and making their way into southern Sudan.
Under a peace process that began last month, rebel fighters were expected to gather in the two camps in southern Sudan by a deadline of September 12, while representatives of the rebels and government were to meet in the Sudanese town of Juba for peace talks.
The Ugandan government Tuesday extended its deadline to a yet-to-be-announced date, and talks are expected to resume next week.
Egeland said that, during his visit to northern Uganda and Juba, where he met with southern Sudanese mediators, he had many indications that this time peace efforts between the Ugandan government and the rebels would be successful.
"I also met with the LRA delegation," Egeland said. "This is probably the first time ever a U.N. official like me had met with the Lord's Resistance Army representatives. I also had, I think, four telephone calls over these last 48 hours with Vincent Otti, who is the number two in the Lord's Resistance Army. We invest now in peace, we invest in the reconciliation process, we invest in the return process, and we advocate for, we demand [the] release and return of women and children and non-fighters."
Many Ugandans are afraid that war crimes charges levied by the International Criminal Court against the top leadership of the Lord's Resistance Army will prevent rebel leaders from attending the talks and will thus stall or stop the peace process.
Egeland says he told people that he does not think that the International Criminal Court indictments will stop the peace process.
"Actually, the peace process started after the indictments were made. I think they have been a positive factor in having the peace process," Egeland said. "We will be able, I think, to see justice served, to not have impunity for war crimes, for crimes against humanity and so on, and still have a peace agreement."
Egeland made these remarks at a news conference following his eight-day tour of Uganda, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In the DRC, the U.N. official met with President Joseph Kabila and toured hospitals and camps for the internally displaced.
He called on the international community to fund efforts that would help people displaced and injured during the DRC's long-running conflict and to support demobilization programs there.