Ugandan officials said Wednesday that the final peace agreement between the government and the Lord's Resistance Army LRA rebels will now be signed on April fifth. The signing could end more than 20 years of war in northern Uganda, one of Africa's longest running conflicts. The agreement was supposed to have been signed March 28. But the rebels have said they will not sign a final peace deal with the Ugandan government unless indictments against top rebel leaders by the International Criminal Court (ICC) are dropped.
Uganda has said that once LRA leader Joseph Kony signs a final deal, it will call on the ICC to drop its indictments.
Norbert Mao is Gulu District Chairman from northern Uganda. He is heading a delegation of religious, cultural and political leaders to southern Sudan as a confidence building measure. Mao told VOA that one of the reasons why the March 28 signing was postponed is because of what he calls turbulence affecting the peace process.
?There are sources, especially as we suspect, sources in Khartoum that are fishing in troubled waters, attempting to lure the LRA away from the peace negotiations. And we have heard that there are those who are tried to seduce the LRA to go and be part of a training camp where some Chadian rebels are being trained, somewhere in Sudan. And the LRA, because they still don?t have 100 percent trust in the peace process, are being seriously tempted. But the forces for peace at the moment are stronger, and we have done our best to send a clear message to the LRA leadership that Juba is the best option. It does not come without risks, but the option of being in bed with Khartoum and Chadian rebels and so on is a more deadly option,? he said.
Mao reiterated that some members of the LRA were being encouraged to join rebel groups in Chad or Sudan.
?The LRA is already a rebel group. But they need a mastermind. Like all rebel groups, they could change their character and become like a mercenary force. This is the danger that I see because previous relationships between the LRA Khartoum. Our sources now have confirmed that the LRA are being lured to being part of destabilizing forces that operate in the part of Africa with the backing of Kharotum,? Mao said.
He also said another reason that the signing of the final peace agreement was moved to April fifth was because chief peace mediator and Southern Sudan Vice President Riek Machar needed time to notify the heads of state who are supposed to witness the signing.
?The heads of state from the countries that have provided members to the cessation of hostilities monitoring team would like to witness the signing. That is DRC Congo, Mozambique, South Africa, Kenya, and Tanzania. They would like to be part of the signing ceremony, and since heads of state are busy people, they need at least two weeks notice to make some adjustments. So that is another plausible reason why it was necessary to postpone the formal signing of the agreement,? Mao said.
Mao said even though LRA leader Joseph Kony still has some concerns about the ICC indictments, he has indicated he would come out of the bush to sign the final peace agreement.
?The intention of the negotiations is that the agreement will have to be signed by the principles, namely President Museveni and Joseph Kony. From my previous contacts with the LRA, Joseph Kony said he would come out to sign. He has some fears of course because of the ICC indictments. But he has made it clear to us that he will come and sign in person,? Mao said.
Mao is heading northern Ugandan delegation of religious, cultural and political leaders to Southern Sudan as a confidence building measure. He said several variables would determine whether the final peace agreement would be signed or not.
"One of the key variables is Joseph Kony is worried about what will happen to him as an individual. The second variable is this case of the ICC. The ICC is insisting that they want the warrants of arrest executed. And the LRA is saying they will hand themselves over. So my gut feeling is that even if we don?t address those variables now, we will have to address them after the signature,? Mao said.