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Ugandan Rebels Reiterate Support for Peace Process

The lead negotiator for the Lords Resistance Army rebel movement reiterated his group's support for the peace process with the Ugandan government. As Derek Kilner reports from Nairobi, the group is attempting to revive negotiations that stalled earlier this year after rebel leader Joseph Kony failed to sign a peace agreement.

Over the weekend, the top U.N. mediator, Joachim Chissano, said Joseph Kony had contacted him, pledging support for the peace process and asking for a return to talks. At a news conference in the Kenyan capital Nairobi on Wednesday, the rebels' chief mediator David Matsanga talked about the group's intention to sign an agreement.

"The message is this: General Joseph Kony and the LRA will not attack anybody, will not go for any military option. They will want to talk peace in Juba and finish this on table," said Matsanga.

He said new meetings are set to begin as early as Monday. The current peace efforts, taking place in Juba, the capital of the semi-autonomous southern region of Sudan, began in mid-2006.

Negotiators had reached an agreement with the Ugandan government in April, but Kony failed to show up to sign the deal. Matsanga said the group has several concerns about the current agreement, and would seek clarification and reassurances on issues including immunity and the demobilization and reintegration of rebels.

The head of the Ugandan government's delegation, Internal Affairs Minister Ruhakana Rugunda says Uganda is happy to clarify the agreement, but rejects any renegotiation of its contents.

"The talks were completed and what is remaining is to sign the final peace agreement which is already in place. And we are waiting for this to be done. We have already believed in clarifying issues where they may not be clear to some people," said Ruhakana.

One reason for Kony's failure to sign the agreement may be the outstanding indictments for war crimes by the International Criminal Court against Kony and his top deputies.

"The ICC is a stumbling block. The Ugandans said they don't like the ICC," said rebel spokesman Matsanga. "The warrants on Kony are unnecessary. The investigations were done in a biased way. Why is it that some generals have not been taken to the Hague?"

The two-decade conflict, which has spilled over from Northern Uganda into the Democratic Republic of the Congo, southern Sudan, and the Central African Republic, has killed thousands and displaced some two million people

Pressure has grown on the LRA since the talks collapsed in April. The top U.S. diplomat for Africa, Jendayi Frazer, has accused the group of re-arming and has urged United Nations peacekeepers in the Congo, where the rebels are based, to pursue the group.

Last month, the governments of Congo, Uganda and southern Sudan agreed to launch a joint military operation against the LRA, with support from U.N. peacekeepers. It is unclear where these plans stand now, in light of the renewed peace efforts, and Ugandan officials have remained silent on the issue.