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Rebel Attack in Uganda Raises Questions About Peace Prospects - 2002-07-26

A vicious rebel attack in northern Uganda is raising questions about planned peace talks between the rebel Lord's Resistance Army and Uganda's government. President Yoweri Museveni had recently agreed to peace talks brokered by Ugandan religious leaders.

Ugandans are shocked by the brutality of the latest attack by the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA).

Forty-eight people were hacked to death near the town of Kitgum in the far north of Uganda on Thursday. Local newspaper reports say elderly people were killed with machetes and spears, and babies were flung against trees.

The Ugandan army has been trying to crush the LRA rebellion for the last 16 years without success.

President Museveni recently gave his backing to peace talks to be brokered by religious leaders. But, Ugandan army spokesman Major Shaban Bantariza said he believes this is a waste of time because the rebel leader, Joseph Kony, does not have any real agenda to discuss. "Our prospects for peace through peace talks have always been slim in the sense that we know the perpetrator of terrorism in the north is not one person who understands what peace talks are about," said Major Bantariza. "He's one person, who has no political agenda or grievances that you would sit down and talk about. So when he comes and massacres people after giving the signal that he wants to talk through the clergy, we are not surprised."

The LRA rebels say they are fighting for the establishment of a government based on the biblical Ten Commandments. They are notorious for kidnapping children and forcing them to become rebel fighters or concubines.

More than half a million people in Uganda's Gulu and Kitgum districts have been displaced by the fighting and are living in temporary camps, protected by the (federal) army.

A local resident in Gulu, David Ochan, said people are scared because the rebels have started planting landmines around the town. Two people were injured by the mines earlier this week.

Mr. Ochan said the army cannot defeat the rebels. He believes that peace talks are the only solution. "Actually we know that rebels are in this location. But it's like the army, they are not actually prepared. Because when they came back, especially this time, they moved in very large numbers. The army even feared attacking them. So I don't think through fighting they can succeed. They could have a peace talk, [which] would be a better solution to the problem," he said.

The Ugandan government has asked the rebels to gather in three locations where they can meet safely with the religious leaders. Major Bantariza said this has not yet happened.