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Ugandan Government, Rebels Take Step toward Peace Deal


Peace negotiators for the Lord's Resistance Army rebel group and Uganda's government have taken another step forward with the signing of a cease-fire agreement. Negotiators say a final peace deal to end the two-decade conflict could be reached within days. Derek Kilner reports from Nairobi.

The cease-fire will make permanent an earlier cessation of hostilities agreement signed in mid 2006. It will take effect 24 hours after the final peace accord is signed.

The announcement followed agreements reached on Friday between the government and rebels, known as the LRA, on ensuring fair representation of northern Uganda in government and military positions, and on a strategy for rehabilitating the war-wracked northern region. Earlier this week, the two sides agreed to try rebels accused of crimes inside Uganda rather than at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Netherlands.

On Thursday, the rebels walked out of the talks in Juba, the capital of Sudan's semi-autonomous southern region. But the chief mediator, southern Sudanese vice president Riek Machar, convinced the rebels to return to the table.

The agreement on representation in the government includes far fewer guarantees than the LRA was demanding. Nevertheless, the lead negotiator for the LRA, David Matsanga, hailed the agreement.

"Today this is a landmark towards peace in our country," he said. "Our people have yearned for that peace for the last 22 years."

The agreement for a cease-fire means the only outstanding item is how rebel soldiers will be demobilized, an issue expected to be resolved quickly.

The war in northern Uganda killed tens of thousands of people and displaced another 2 million between 1986 and 2006.

Some human rights organizations have criticized the peace talks, because LRA leaders will likely be tried in Uganda rather than at the International Criminal Court. The international body has issued arrest warrants for LRA leader Joseph Kony and his top deputies for crimes, including amputating limbs and forcibly recruiting child soldiers.

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