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Ugandan Army Resumes Patrols in North as Talks With Rebels Continue

The Ugandan army has resumed patrolling areas of war-torn northern Uganda that were exempt from patrols under a truce signed between the government and a rebel group. Talks between the two sides are apparently still going on.

Army spokesman Major Felix Kulayigye tells VOA that, despite media reports to the contrary, the resumption of patrols does not mean that the government has renewed its operations against members of the Lord's Resistance Army.

"We have the responsibility that in northern Ugandan where there is no adequate police, we also do ordinary law and order maintenance. So there is nothing like a war, there is no war here," he explained.

Meanwhile, Reuters news agency quotes top rebel official Vincent Otti as saying that he thinks the army is trying to goad the rebels into fighting, but that the rebels have no intention of attacking the army or civilian populations and are instead committed to the peace talks.

In August, the two sides signed a landmark truce to pave the way for negotiations to end almost two decades of civil war, during which the rebel group is said to have committed brutal atrocities against civilian populations.

Under the terms of the agreement, rebel fighters were to have come out of the bush and assemble in two neutral camps in southern Sudan, while rebel and government representatives were to meet in the Sudanese town of Juba.

Media reports indicate that more than 1,000 rebel fighters have assembled in or near the designated camps, but government officials claim most of the rebels have failed to assemble in the designated camps.

Army spokesman Kulayigye tells VOA he thinks the renewal of the patrols will not hinder the peace talks.

"Peace talks are going on and our team is still in Juba, and we have a session this afternoon at three o'clock," he said. "Nonetheless, criminals will not wait for Juba to end. Our interest is providing normal protection to the people, it is nothing about combat operations."

From its inception in August, the peace process has been plagued with problems.

Throwing a major obstacle into the process has been the issuing of arrest warrants against the top rebel leadership by the International Criminal Court. The rebels have said they would not attend the talks until the ICC drops the war crimes charges. The ICC says the charges still stand.

The north has been plagued by a civil war since the late 1980s that has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced almost two million more.

Members of the elusive rebel group have been blamed for gross human rights violations in the area.