The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has reportedly said it is willing to make available for investigation its fighters who have committed alleged atrocities in Uganda’s 20-year civil war. In its latest position to the peace mediation committee in the South Sudan capital of Juba, the rebels said they will make good on their offer only if the Ugandan government turn in its soldiers who have also committed alleged atrocities.
Meanwhile, former chief peace mediator Betty Bigombe has been commenting on the ongoing peace talks between the Ugandan government and the LRA rebels. From Washington, Bigombe told VOA she is hopeful an agreement would be reached.
“My take on all this is that I’m convinced a peace deal will be reached. Unlike people who get impatient when there is any delay, I want people to realize that a war that has lasted a long time, a peace deal will not be arrived very easily. So we need patience in here. Second, it is bound to have setbacks. You know when people have been killing one another, it’s not something that overnight they start seeing one another in a different light. There’s deep seated distrust between the parties, and it takes time,” she said.
With the LRA and Ugandan government negotiators trading proposals at the Juba peace talks, Bigombe said she’s encouraged because the two sides are talking.
“The most important thing is that there is dialogue going on. Even during impasse, there was dialogue going on. And what gives me lot of hope is that when two people are still communicating with one another, that none of them has said no this is the end of it, we are not going to talk to you any more, it gives me a lot of hope. It shows me that there is commitment from both sides that the process should continue,” Bigombe said.
One of the obstacles to reaching a comprehensive peace deal at the Juba talks is the issue of the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) indictment warrants against LRA leader Joseph Kony and his top lieutenants. Bigombe said both parties should find a way to address the issue of the ICC warrants.
“When I was talking, arrest warrants had not yet been issued. So the circumstances were different. In fact at the time, if there was anything, what I wanted was for the comprehensive ceasefire agreement to be signed because that would have blocked off the arrest warrant. I think everybody needs to be given time to go back on the drawing board and see how the ICC issue should be addressed,” Bigombe said.
Bigombe said she did not want to blame LRA’s Joseph Kony or Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni for the lack of a comprehensive agreement.
“I don’t think it’s either LRA or President Museveni. I think you need to be there to understand some of the complexities. To me, even if there has been a delay, I am very hopeful that the dialogue continues because when people have been fighting for 20 years, they are very suspicious. Even one little word makes a difference; it can delay a process for a day or two. So I don’t at this point in time want to pass any judgment,” she said.
Bigombe, a former Uganda government minister, said what she learned as a mediator is that perhaps the parties should have spent more time with confident building before beginning negotiations.
“The lessons I’ve learned is we all need a lot of patience; we need a lot of understanding, and also, if I could, I think one of the most of the important things is not to jump straight to talks, but to spend some time doing confident building, where the parties can interact with different people and among themselves to get to understand one another,” Bigombe said