A senior mediator at peace talks between the Ugandan government and rebels says he is confident they will reach a deal, despite initial problems. The Lord's Resistance Army, which has fought an 18-year battle with Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni's government, began face-to-face talks last week with Ugandan officials under the mediation of southern Sudan government officials.
The Lord's Resistance Army rebels have laid out their demands on the fourth day of talks in Juba. Last week, Uganda extended a deadline for hashing out a peace deal to September 12.
Southern Sudan president Salva Kiir said the fact that the talks are happening at all "is rather a miracle" because the Lords Resistance Army has been known as a terrorist organization and its leaders have been indicted by the International Criminal Court.
Salva Kiir says his government initiated the peace process and sought out rebel leader Joseph Kony to protect southern Sudan from the brutal conflict.
"We were forced to this position because it was our people who are dying," Kiir said. "Being the abduction, being the rape, being the killing, being the looting. Whatever sorts of atrocities that are being committed, are being committed on the people of Southern Sudan. We have two choices we opted for talking to them instead of a military solution."
The peace process is in defiance of outstanding arrest warrants issued by the International Criminal Court for Joseph Kony and four other senior commanders of the Lords Resistance Army, on charges of crimes against humanity.
The rebel leaders have not attended the negotiations, saying they fear arrest. Many people fear the junior rebel delegation sent in their place does not have the authority to speak definitively for the rebels.
But Mr. Kiir says that unlike many peace process's in the past, these negotiations stand a good chance of success. And peace for the region is of far greater importance than punishing the crimes of individuals.
"To talk with such people has been seen to be not the right cause to take. But they have accepted for the first time to come face-to-face with the delegation from the government of Uganda," he said. "We have talked to both parties and they have committed themselves to negotiations in good faith, to bring a lasting peace to Northern Uganda and Southern Sudan."
Friday, the rebels began by denouncing the Ugandan government for pursuing a path of violence and militarism, and stated their willingness to continue fighting. The Ugandan government then called for the rebels to surrender their arms.
Progress has since been made with the rebels agreeing to sign a cease-fire. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has offered them a full and guaranteed amnesty as long as they renounce violence.