UGANDA: Government, rebels to resume talks in Sudan

NABANGA, 2 August 2006 (IRIN) - Peace talks between the Ugandan government and the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) will resume next Monday in Juba, Riek Machar, the chief mediator and southern Sudanese Vice-President, said. "The talks will start on Monday [7 August]," Machar told reporters on Tuesday near the border between Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), after meeting Joseph Kony, the LRA leader. "I am optimistic that this time they will come up with a positive result because I have seen the commitment of the Ugandan people." However, Kony demanded a cessation of hostilities before talks. "We wish to categorically state that no meaningful negotiations can take place without a cessation of hostilities," he said. Wearing a white short-sleeved shirt and white trousers, a relaxed Kony denied abducting children, despite the children among the 80 fighters guarding him. "I cannot fight with children," he told reporters at his first news conference in 21 years. "As you know very well, children cannot walk 60 miles as I do." Kony also met leaders from East, West and Central Equatoria in Sudan and asked for forgiveness. He blamed the Ugandan army for some of the atrocities committed during the 20-year conflict in northern Uganda and southern Sudan. "You should forgive us for what we have done to our brothers and sisters. Some of the atrocities you have reported to me were committed by the LRA, but some were committed in places where we don't have a presence - probably by the UPDF [Ugandan People's Defence Forces]," he said. On Monday, Kony had told a delegation of Ugandan religious, community and political leaders that he would like to discuss with the Ugandan government how to end the northern war peacefully, but continuing attacks on his forces could jeopardise such talks. "The first thing that should have taken place should have been the signing of a protocol or a memorandum of understanding on the cessation of hostilities or an agreement on a ceasefire between the LRA and the Ugandan government," he said. The meetings followed a break in talks between the Ugandan government and the LRA, to allow for consultations. The talks started on 14 July. "I believe the LRA and the Uganda government will settle this conflict through peaceful means because the military option did not work for 20 years," Kony said. "Tell them [the Ugandan government] that I have accepted to talk peace." The LRA, which has fought the Ugandan government for 21 years, claiming it wants to install an administration based on the Ten Commandments, has bases in southern Sudan and northern DRC. Almost two million people have been displaced by the fighting and more than 25,000 children abducted either to fight for the rebels or to serve as sex slaves. [See related stories] kt/mw/eo

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