Representatives of the Lord's Resistance Army rebel movement are on a historic visit to the Ugandan capital, Kampala. As Derek Kilner reports from VOA's East Africa bureau in Nairobi, the delegation plans to meet with President Yoweri Museveni and consult with Ugandans in other parts of the country about ongoing peace negotiations.
The visit by the rebels, who arrived in Kampala on Thursday is the first by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), since peace talks began in southern Sudan in July 2006. The talks adjourned in June to allow the two sides to engage in consultations with people in Uganda.
Notably lacking from LRA's delegation are the top military commanders. Leader Joseph Kony and three of his deputies are wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes committed during the conflict, including amputations and the forced recruitment of child soldiers. They may fear being arrested if they were to show up in Kamapala.The delegation is headed by Martin Ojul.
LRA spokesman Godfrey Ayoo says the rebels plan to meet with President Museveni in coming days. He says the delegation has been warmly received in Kampala.
"The reception that the Lords Resistance Movement/Army's peace delegation has received in Uganda has been wonderful. There's a lot of excitement, a lot of expectation," he said.
Ayoo says the purpose of the delegation is to demonstrate that his group wants peace and to involve the Ugandan people in the peace process.
"The common people must be involved in a solution to the conflict so that the implementation of this agreement that we have entered into should be supported by the people of Uganda, so that whatever agreement we sign with the government should not be strange to the people of Uganda," he added.
Manasseh Wepundi, senior analyst at the Africa Policy Institute in Nairobi, suggests that the LRA's visit may have symbolic value, but that it is less clear how much the event will do to move the peace process forward.
"It is an important confidence-building measure," he noted. "It serves to build the confidence not only of the LRA delegation, but also of the other stakeholders in the peace process. That includes the mediation team and the local communities. But as to whether that in itself serves to reduce the egos of either party, or to reduce the mistrust between the two parties, that still remains to be seen."
Wepundi and other analysts see deciding the fate of Joseph Kony, the group's leader, as a major sticking point in achieving a deal. And Kony's absence from Kampala highlights the difficulty of the task.
The American organization ENOUGH released a report on Monday by John Prendergast, a top Africa official in the Clinton administration. The report suggests that choices for dealing with Kony include bringing him to justice in Uganda, giving him asylum in another country, or forcibly arresting him if the peace process collapses.
There have been reports recently of a split between Joseph Kony and his deputy Vincent Otti. But the LRA delegation in Kampala has rejected the reports as unfounded.