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Ugandan Rebels Refuse to Return to Talks

Officials mediating peace talks between the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) and the Ugandan government say the talks are once again in crisis, after the rebel delegation stormed out late Wednesday. The talks, being held in the southern Sudanese town of Juba, are the latest attempt to end the 18-year civil war in northern Uganda.

The Lord's Resistance Army rebels say they will not return to the negotiating table, until the Ugandan government joins them in declaring a cease-fire.

The spokesman for the LRA rebel delegation, Obonyo Olweny, told reporters in Juba Thursday that the rebels agreed to a unilateral cease-fire last Friday, because southern Sudanese mediators' said it was a precondition for the resumption of talks. Olweny said that his group does not want to continue the peace process, without a reciprocal cease-fire agreement from the Ugandan government.

Tensions between the LRA and Ugandan forces escalated this week, after government troops killed eight LRA fighters in northern Uganda. The government has refused to apologize for the killings, or commit to a cessation of hostilities.

Government spokesman Robert Kabushenga says the rebels have used cease-fires in the past to regroup and rearm, and a cease-fire agreement should be part of a comprehensive settlement.

"We have to negotiate it," he said. "The cease-fire has to have mechanisms and terms and conditions and the structure in which it operates. Plus, we have to monitor it. It is up to them. Our delegation will remain in Juba."

Vice president of Southern Sudan and chief mediator Reik Machar has urged top rebel leaders Joseph Kony and Vincent Otti to attend the talks. But both men have so far refused. The two are wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity.

The lack of high-level representation at the talks has led many Ugandans to question the authority of the rebel delegation to negotiate a meaningful peace settlement with the government.

Since the war in the north began 18 years ago, more than 10,000 Ugandans have been killed, 2 million displaced, and as many as 30,000 children have been abducted to serve as soldiers and sex slaves.