Uganda Peace Talks Collapsing?

Martin Ojul, LRA spokesman said the talks were in “grave threats and danger of failure� due to the unfolding heavy military deployments of UPDF troops in Uganda, Southern Sudan and in the Democratic Republic of Congo

(LRA chief Kony and government side throw counter-accusations of ceasefire violations).

The Lords Resistance Army (LRA) has threatened to end the peace talks and given a seven-day ultimatum for the Uganda government to withdraw its troops from Owiny-Kibul, Southern Sudan. Uganda denies its troops have deployed in Owiny-Kibul where the rebels have been assembling as part of a recent ceasefire deal.

Separately, in a letter to South Sudan President, Salva Kiir and the talks mediator, Dr. Riek Machar, Uganda claims Joseph Kony, the rebel chief has ordered all his commanders to move out of the assembly points, in contravention of the ceasefire agreement signed on August 26.

As both sides accuse the other of ceasefire violations, there could be a delay to the end of the 23-year insurgency that has cost many thousands of lives and much destruction to property, in one of Africa’s worst conflicts. Nearly 2 million civilians live in squalid camps in northern Uganda as a result of the war.

Martin Ojul, LRA spokesperson said the talks were in “grave threats and danger of failure� due to the unfolding heavy military deployments of UPDF troops in Uganda, Southern Sudan and in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The LRA in their statement, they said, other sources have confirmed the most recent new deployment of UPDF at Owiny ki Bul. The rebels also want the African Union commanders to become involved.

“Eyewitnesses and the locals have reported seeing UPDF helicopter gunship delivering arms and ammunition to the newly deployed UPDF troops,â€? Ojul claimed in the statement and continued: “On Sept 24th 2006, while passing through Koc Ongako, UPDF ferried six truck loads of arms and ammunition into southern Sudan. Be also hereby informed of UPDF plan to dress up in SPLA military uniforms and masquerade as SPLA soldiers.â€?

Ojul also noted: “As if that was not enough breach of Cessation of Hostilities Agreement, the Government of Uganda has within the very recent, in total disregard of international laws, and acting against the territorial integrity and sovereignty of DRC, illegally deployed not less than eleven truck loads of troops into the DRC in preparation for an assault on LRA forces assembled at Ri-kwamba at the border of Sudan and DRC.�

“LRA also demands that the government of Southern Sudan guarantees the security, safety and well being of LRA troops on southern Sudan soil,� the rebels said. Moreover, the LRA demanded that in line with the terms of Cessation of Hostilities Agreement on constituting the monitoring team, the African Union should name and send its representatives to join and balance the team, whose current composition lacks neutrality.

The rebels also stated: “The leader of Uganda Government delegation Dr. Rugunda is quoted by the regime’s propaganda newspaper, The New Vision of Sept 26th, 2006 to have boasted of apparent existing warm symbiotic relation between the GoU and GOSS and between their respective forces, the UPDF and SPLA, whose interests supersede the concerns for the security and safety of LRA troops on Sudan soil. LRA hereby implores the African Union to send two of its commanders to act as a neutral party in the composition and implementation of the monitoring team as mentioned in the cessation agreement.â€?    

However, government delegation spokesperson, Capt. Paddy Ankunda denied the alleged UPDF deployments: “We are not in Congo and we have no intentions of entering Congo without the permission of the UN and Congo even after we aware of the threats the LRA poses to Uganda from that place.� He also said the LRA’s threats would not affect their stay in Juba unless they were pushed out. Ankunda declined to comment on the letter by the government delegation to President Salva and Dr. Machar, accusing the LRA of violating the ceasefire.

“We are under no authority to talk to the press about alleged violations of ceasefire. We have a structure of cessation of hostilities which is working and all information about the progress of the ceasefire can be acquired from there,� he added.
The LRA turned back a Ugandan delegation comprising of foreign ambassadors, journalists, some army officers and the government’s media center from accessing Owiny-Ki-Bul, for an assessment mission. The LRA said the group, of 75, was being escorted by the Ugandan military contrary to the cessation agreement.

Army spokesperson Maj. Felix Kulaigye, who is also part of the team, said the involvement of the army was because of poor security in the area. “We could not continue to Owiny-Ki-Bul minus security, reason being that we established from the SPLA police post in Pajok that the mechanism in Owiny-Ki-Bul was not sufficient for our security, therefore it would have been foolhardy for us to go minus a clearly spelt out mechanism to ensure our going and safe return.�

Ssebaggala writes for The Black Star from Uganda.

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