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LRA Rebels Say Uganda Troop Withdrawal is a Triumph of Peace Over War

The Ugandan military announced Sunday that it has begun withdrawing its forces from the Democratic Republic of Congo where they have been pursuing Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebels. Since December last year, the Ugandan military have been engaged in a joint operation with Congolese and southern Sudanese forces against the LRA.

The operation was launched after rebel leader Joseph Kony failed to sign a peace agreement last year. Ugandan military spokesman Felix Kulayigye said Sunday the operation had been a success, with around 100 LRA rebels killed and more than 200 abductees rescued.

LRA chief peace negotiator David Matsanga told VOA the military adventure in Congo was a failure because with Kony still at large, the northern Uganda conflict can only be resolved through peaceful means.

"I have said time and time again over this radio station and other radio stations worldwide that the attack on 13 of December 2008 was not called for. It was meant to destroy the peace process. The withdrawal is a triumph for peace lovers like me and others who have fought so hard to make sure that Ugandan troops withdraw and that we re-engage the Ugandan government in a neutral country so that we can find a long-lasting solution to our problem," he said.

Matsanga rejected Ugandan military spokesman Felix Kulayigye's claims that the Congo operation was a success because around 100 LRA rebels had been killed and more than 200 abductees rescued.

"What do you call success? You call killing people a success? A person like Major Felix Kulayigye has never seen much of the trouble, anguish, the pain the people of northern Uganda have gone through. What success when you have killed over 1,000 people, people's property have been destroyed and you have called that success? In fact if the chief of defence forces of Uganda was an honorable man he would resign because he gave wrong intelligence information to President (Yoweri) Museveni and the operation has collapsed," Matsanga said.

Humanitarian groups and human rights activists have accused the LRA of massacring hundreds of civilians during the joint operation in Congo.

Matsanga laid the blame for the alleged killings on a battalion of the Ugandan defense forces.

"Everybody knows that I said Battalion 105 is a battalion composed of a breakaway group of LRA combatants. They are in Dumbu as we speak right now. So these killings, most of them were done by Battalion 105. Why doesn't the U.N. investigate what is the composition of this Battalion, where are they, how many of them are there, what are they doing?" he said.

Matsanga said the Ugandan conflict cannot be resolved through military means. To drive that point home, he said former Mozambican President Joachim Chissano and United Nations special envoy to for the Ugandan conflict was in Uganda to explore ways to restart the stalled peace process.

"I would like to tell you yesterday I met President Chissano; I presented President Chissan with a proposal what we call in conflict resolution a roadmap to peace. We have put in this document, one ceasefire. We want a total ceasefire in the region so that we can communicate with our commanders on the ground on what we should do. Two, a stakeholders' conference to assess why President Museveni and others decided to attack when there is a peace process," Matsanga said.

The Ugandan government has been pushing for LRA leader Joseph Kony to sign the final peace agreement. But Matsanga said Kony cannot sign any agreement when the group is under attack from the Ugandan military.

"How can Kony sign an agreement when there is no ceasefire? How can Kony sign an agreement when jet fighters are on top looking for him? How can Kony sign an agreement when everybody knows that the ICC (International Criminal Court) indictments are the ones that have collapsed this peace process? So these are the issues that we want to look and then bring permanent peace to northern Uganda," Matsanga said.