Uganda: Museveni accepts direct Kony talks

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By Fortunate Ahimbisibwe

PRESIDENT Yoweri Museveni yesterday met LRA peace negotiators led by David Matsanga. Speaking after the meeting, Matsanga said Museveni had agreed to speak to Kony on telephone.

"The President said he is willing to receive Joseph Kony's call and that once Kony signs the peace agreement, he will not be taken to the International Criminal Court," Matsanga added.

Museveni promised to honour his word about the indictments, Matsanga said. "We shall take this position to Kony."

Okello Oryem, the state minister for foreign affairs, told Xinhua news agency that Museveni was not opposed to Kony's request for direct contact and he gave Matsanga his telephone number for Kony to call him directly.

"Museveni said he is willing to have direct talks with Kony anytime, even this evening if possible," said Oryem, the deputy head of the Government peace team.

The meeting, which took place at the Imperial Royale Hotel Kampala, lasted for several hours. It was attended by South Sudan vice-president Dr. Riek Machar and Uganda's internal affairs minister Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda, the chief mediators.

Kony failed to turn up at the signing ceremony of the final peace deal last weekend in the Ri-Kwangba jungles in South Sudan.

Kony said later he would like to talk to Museveni directly. He also wants his forces integrated into the national army, a demand which was rejected by the Government during the two years of painstaking talks sponsored by the UN and South Sudan.

Matsanga, along with Riek Machar, briefed Museveni on Kony's failure to sign, the third time this year.

Matsanga told the closed-door meeting that the rebel leader did not sign because of confusing telephone calls and text messages from his tribe-mates warning him not to sign.

Kony also needed a lawyer, he added, to help him understand the relationship between his International Criminal Court indictments and Uganda's judicial system under which he will be tried.

Matsanga also told the President that Kony was unhappy that humanitarian agencies had been stopped from supplying food to his fighters.

Talking about the meeting, Oryem quoted Museveni as saying he had no problem with Kony getting a professional lawyer although he thought the indictments had been explained to him clearly.

The Government insisted that it would not appeal to the UN's court for the withdrawal of the charges before the peace deal is signed.

Museveni yesterday maintained that the rebels would receive food only if they assembled at Ri-Kwangba as stipulated in the peace agreement.

On the possibility of attack by the UPDF, Matsanga said: "The President said there is no immediate military action against the LRA and the Government will pursue a peaceful end to the conflict."

But, according to the Presidential spokesman, Tamale Mirundi, Museveni expressed reservations about Kony's interest in signing the agreement. "Kony is capable of delaying or refusing to sign the peace agreement because he is not interested in peace," Mirundi quoted Museveni.

Museveni also advised Kony to take advantage of the Government peace offer. "If Kony is still playing games, it is up to him but as government, we advise him to come out of the bush."

Machar suggested that a regional approach involving the DR Congo needs to be taken since the rebels are hiding there.

The LRA insurgency has left thousands of people dead and uprooted some two million people in northern Uganda before the group shifted to southern Sudan and the DRC, then the Central Republic of Africa following Uganda's intensified military crack-down on the rebels.

In the past, says the army, Kony has used durations of talks to re-arm, train, treat the wounded and mobilise for more war.