Ugandan rebels renew refusal to attend peace talks in Sudan
Amid growing appeals for pressure on both Kampala and the LRA to return to negotiations in the southern Sudanese capital of Juba, the rebels said they would only attend talks outside Sudan, preferably in Kenya or South Africa.
"The LRA will neither resume talks in Juba nor participate in talks anywhere in Sudan, not even with a new mediator," said Martin Ojul, chief of the rebel delegation. "Peace talks in Sudan (are) closed forever."
"The LRA will only resume negotiations in a new venue outside Sudan, preferably in Kenya or even in South Africa," he told reporters in the Kenyan capital.
His comments followed LRA receipt of an invitation to rejoin the talks on Monday and the rebels formal response to the invitation, rejecting their participation, Ojul said.
He also suggested that Sudanese officials at the Juba talks had "embezzled" UN money intended to fund the negotiations that began in July 2006 in a bid to resolve nearly 20 years of brutal war in northern Uganda.
The talks, seen as the best chance yet to end the conflict that has killed tens of thousands and displaced nearly two million, have stalled after the sealing of a landmark truce in August that was last extended in mid-December.
Since then, the LRA have refused to resume dialogue, accusing the chief mediator, south Sudan's vice president Riek Machar, of bias towards Kampala and Khartoum of wanting them to leave Juba because of alleged attacks on civilians.
Ojul repeated vehement denials of LRA involvement in the attacks, accusing the Ugandan army of being behind them as part of a "heinous plan" to keep the people of northern Uganda in poverty.
Meanwhile, aid agencies on Friday urged the international community to press the Ugandan government and the LRA to revive the talks, warning that failure could lead to a resurgence of violence and more suffering in the region.
British-based charity Oxfam and Save the Children said the stalemate risked gains in stabilizing the war-torn north since the ceasefire.
"These talks are the best chance for peace in 20 years," Savio Carvalho, Oxfam's country programme manager in Uganda, said in a statement. "They cannot be allowed to fail."
"For the sake of the people of northern Uganda, it is crucial that both parties do everything within their power to ensure that these peace talks do not collapse," he said.
In a separate statement, Save the Children made a similar plea, noting the tenuous status of the negotiations.
"This is cause for grave concern and it grows day by day affecting humanitarian operations in northern Uganda," it said. "It is crucial for all international actors to express stronger support for the peace process."
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Received by NewsEdge Insight: 01/19/2007 11:05:03
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