LRA sticks to its guns, yet ready to sign peace deal

A final peace agreement to end two decades of conflict in northern
Uganda is expected to be signed on 5 April, but the rebel Lord's
Resistance Army (LRA) said it would only disarm if indictments issued
by the International Criminal Court (ICC) against its top leadership were deferred.

"A
signed copy will be given to (the Ugandan) government. Then the
government will have the obligation to take the copy to the UN Security
Council and ask for a 12-month suspension of the warrants before the
LRA could disarm," David Matsanga, the head of the LRA delegation at
the talks, told IRIN

This represents a softening of the LRA’s
position. During the months of peace talks in Juba, the rebel movement
had insisted the indictments be dropped altogether, but the ICC
prosecutor dismissed the idea, even though the Rome Statute that guides
the court allows him to rule that Ugandan courts are competent to
handle the case themselves, and that one of the agreements reached
during the talks provided for a special division of the Ugandan high
court to be set up to try war crimes committed during the conflict.

The
Rome Statute also empowers the Security Council to override the
prosecutor and defer a prosecution for a renewable 12-month period.

"We
have agreed that the tentative date for signing is 5 April and we are
still continuing debating other aspects of the final agreement,"
Matsanga’s deputy, James Obita, told IRIN.


Photo: Manoocher Deghati/IRIN
Two
former abducted girls sit on a bed at the World Vision rehabilitation
centre in Gulu District, northern Uganda, August 2006. Girls as young
as 10 were regularly abducted from villages and given as wives to
senior LRA commanders

The LRA fought against
the government of President Yoweri Museveni for two decades, mainly
attacking civilians in the north and east of the country. The group was
widely accused of committing atrocities, including torching homes and
camps for the displaced, killings, rape and the abduction of children
for military conscription and sexual slavery.

The Ugandan
government asked The Hague-based ICC to investigate the LRA for war
crimes and in 2005 warrants were issued for the arrest of five top LRA
commanders, including the group’s leader Joseph Kony.

Government
delegation spokesman Chris Magezi said an existing cessation of
hostilities agreement would not be formally extended beyond 28 March,
when it expires, but said the truce would be respected “in a manner of
a gentleman’s agreement”.

The LRA team was scheduled to travel
to the Ri-Kwangba area of Southern Sudan for the final consultation
with senior leadership on the settlement.

"They will either
return with Joseph Kony or anybody authorised by the rebel high command
to sign the agreement on its behalf," Magezi added.

Obita, however, said the ICC indictments might discourage Kony from emerging from hiding to sign the peace agreement.

The
cessation of hostilities deal was forged in August 2006, two months
after the two parties agreed to peace talks mediated by the Vice
President of Southern Sudan, Riek Machar.

Scores of civic and
religious leaders from northern Uganda arrived in Juba on 25 March to
witness the signing that was earlier scheduled to take place on 28
March.

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