UGANDA: Rebels propose federalist solution at Juba talks

Kampala, 11 October 2006 (IRIN) - The Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) suggested on Wednesday the country adopt a federalist system as a way of ensuring peace after 20 years of conflict in northern Uganda.

In the revised LRA proposals, made under the talks’ second agenda on comprehensive solutions, the rebels say Uganda should be governed under a federal system of government, insisting that this would ease tensions and ensure general stability.

The on-and-off talks resumed last week after a fact-finding team checked out rebel claims that government troops had surrounded surrendering rebels. The team last week visited Owiny Ki-Bul, one of two assembly areas for the LRA, and found that the rebels had instead abandoned the site.

The legal adviser to the LRA's delegation in Juba, where the peace talks are being held, told IRIN that the LRA considered such a system the best mechanism to "appropriately promote stability in the country. We are insisting on federalism," Ayena Odongo said. "When this system was in place before independence and immediately after, the country experienced relative stability and development and since it was abolished, Uganda has never been the same again."

The comprehensive solutions agenda covers the LRA's participation in national politics and institutions; social and economic development of northern and eastern Uganda; as well as the resettlement of internally displaced persons (IDPs).

Odongo said the LRA’s revised demands presented to the government delegation propose that the Ugandan parliament draw up legislation to cater for this fundamental political reform.

"Those areas that can be federal states should be allowed to do so as this will promote mutual understanding within a bigger family, Uganda," he said.

Other proposals include the creation of a government ministry mandated to handle the rehabilitation of northern and eastern Uganda, the two areas that have borne the brunt of the 20-year conflict that has killed thousands and displaced almost two million people.

"We are proposing an independent special body that will be responsible for the rehabilitation of northern Uganda. We would not like this body to be under the prime minister’s office as has been the case before, but it should be a fully fledged ministry," he added.

The government delegation spokesman, Capt Paddy Ankunda, criticised the LRA proposals, saying the rebels, accused of atrocities in the north of the country, lacked any moral authority to talk about the rehabilitation of the area.

"The north looks the way it does because of the LRA," he said. "I have seen their proposal where they say they want two representatives on this body and we are going to give an answer to it."

The rebel group had also revised its earlier demand for the disbandment of the Uganda People's Defence Forces (UPDF), saying it was partisan. Now the rebels say it should be downsized to give room for what Odongo said was "other regions and integrating the LRA".

In the interim, the LRA should be left alone "because Joseph Kony [LRA leader] and his commanders are unlikely to subject themselves to the protection of an army they have been fighting for 20 years", he said.

"Rather than talking about separate armies, during the period of DDR [demobilisation, disarmament and reintegration], as we try to build a new force with a national character, the LRA should be left alone until the end of that process. Then we can have the demobilisation exercise and reintegration of the LRA into the downsized army," Odongo said.

Ankunda dismissed the LRA proposal, saying a defence reform project was looking at, among other things, the downsizing and reorganisation of the army.

"This is not a new thing. This programme answers their proposals quite well and the integration of the LRA into the army is not a new proposal because we already have 1,500 ex-LRA fighters who have been integrated into the army," Ankunda said. "The UPDF cannot disband and Uganda can never have two armies."

The talks, which started in July, have also been bogged down by charges against the rebel leaders filed by the International Criminal Court. The rebels want the charges lifted, but both the court and the Ugandan government have rejected that demand.

The two parties are expected to discuss the extension of the Cessation of Hostilities agreement that expired in September, as a way to give the LRA more time to reassemble in neutral areas in southern Sudan that they had abandoned amid accusations that the Ugandan army had deployed near them.

A report by the Cessation of Hostilities monitoring team that visited Owiny Ki-Bul last week recommended that the rebels reassemble after acknowledging that all parties to the agreement had violated it, with LRA being accused of not assembling and hostile propaganda; Uganda of having its army near the assembly points; and the mediators for failing to deploy soldiers to guard the assembling LRA fighters.


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