Army denies blocking peace negotiations

The Ugandan People's Defence Force (UPDF) has dismissed accusations that it deliberately sabotaged efforts by the government's peace team to meet commanders from the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) last Thursday.

UPDF spokesman Shaban Bantariza told IRIN the army had not yet been ordered to stop fighting the LRA.

"If he [President Yoweri Museveni] tells us to stop fighting because they are now [engaged] in peace negotiations then we will follow the orders and stop fighting until the negotiations are over," he said.

"[LRA leader Joseph] Kony himself broke the so-called ceasefire he is claiming, by committing nine offences which include abducting and killing innocent civilians," Bantariza added.

The government team led by Salim Saleh - who is Museveni's brother - was due to meet LRA top commanders in Koyo Lalogi, Pajule sub-county, in Aruu county.

Chairman of the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative (ARLPI) team and retired Kitgum bishop, Macleod Baker Ochola, said members of the UPDF had attacked the venue for the talks.

"I am disappointed at the way our arrangements were disorganised by the army even after we informed them in advance that we were going to meet the rebels," he told IRIN. "Because when the rebels learned of the UPDF deployment at our meeting place, they thought we wanted to use the army to kill them."

A local member of parliament, Okumu Regan, told IRIN that he was disappointed at the "negative attitude" of the army to the LRA's ceasefire declaration issued on 1 March.

"It is high time the UPDF realised that they will not bring the war in the north to an end using the gun, but rather through dialogue," he said. "I do not see why some UPDF members are still interested to see the war continue in the north."