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UGANDA: Revised gov't-LRA ceasefire deal signed

Kampala, 1 November 2006 (IRIN) - Talks aimed at ending two decades of fighting in northern Uganda, were given a boost on Wednesday with the signing of a revamped truce in Juba, south Sudan, officials said.

The Ugandan government and the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) ended a week-long impasse when they penned the landmark agreement.

Under the latest ceasefire, the LRA will return to two previously abandoned neutral sites in southern Sudan which they had fled fearing attacks from the Ugandan army. As part of the agreement, the South Sudanese government has pledged to keep the camps secure.

This open-ended deal replaces an August agreement that technically expired in September, but which was still in force amidst accusations of its violation from both sides.

"We signed an agreement to renew the truce this morning," Godfrey Ayoo, the LRA spokesman at the talks, said. "It is an encouraging move that will make us put our soldiers back into the assembly points."

He added: "The deal is valid until a comprehensive ceasefire is agreed and signed, but we will always meet to review it. We are comfortable since most of our security concerns have been addressed under the revised agreement. Even though we could not get most of our demands accepted, it is better than nothing."

The spokesman for the Ugandan government delegation at the talks, Capt Paddy Ankunda, said the agreement had "rekindled" the peace process to end the 19-year war in northern Uganda, in which thousands have died and nearly two million have been displaced.

"What we expect next is for the LRA to start assembling, as this will be a positive basis of what we are going to discuss at the peace talks," Ankunda said.

As part of the new agreement, Ugandan troops are to withdraw from around one of the two camps, Owiny Ki-Bul, near southern Sudan's border with Uganda, and a 30 kilometre (18-mile) buffer zone has been put in place.

The RLA have been given one week to return to the camp, and four weeks to report at the second camp at Ri-Kwangba near southern Sudan's border with northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

At the same time, the revised agreement has placed restrictions on the supply of food to the LRA outside the assembly area, except in what it called "exceptional circumstances".

LRA leader Joseph Kony and four of his senior commanders have been charged with war crimes by the International Criminal Court for atrocities against civilians in northern Uganda; these include murder, rape, mutilation and mass abductions.

Although Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni, has promised the rebel leaders total amnesty if they sign a peace deal, the charges at the international court remain and have been a major issue of contention at the Juba negotiations.

Kony and his deputy, Vincent Otti, who are holed up in the jungles of northeastern DRC, have refused to enter either of the two camps, citing fear of arrest.

It is hoped that the revamped truce, which extends the mandate of a monitoring team until 1 December, will boost the stalled peace talks.

Archbishop John Odama said the agreement would rekindle hope among residents in northern Uganda, who had borne the brunt of the conflict.

"This will improve the hopes of the people as all their hope was invested in these talks in Juba as a way for a lasting solution to their suffering," he said from Gulu.

Despite the new agreement, both sides remain far apart on critical issues, including a reformed Ugandan military, power-sharing and governance.

However, the Juba negotiations are presently the best chance to end the conflict that has been described as one of the world's worst, and most-forgotten, humanitarian crises.

The conflict has raged since 1988 when Kony and the LRA took leadership of a regional rebellion among northern Uganda's ethnic Acholi minority.

vm/oss/jm

Theme (s): Conflict,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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