KAMPALA, 11 March (IRIN) - President
Yoweri Museveni of Uganda on Monday declared a five-day cessation of hostilities
in Wipolo and Koyo Lalogi, two locations in the northern Pader district,
to enable the government peace team to meet commanders of the rebel Lord's
Resistance Army (LRA).
Army spokesman Shaban Bantariza told IRIN that the declaration was "an offer" to the rebels. "It is true that Museveni has issued the directive to the UPDF [Uganda People's Defence Force] to pull out and not attack the rebels or any of their positions," he said. "The directive takes off with immediate effect [from Monday] and the UPDF has already started responding to the commander's orders."
Bantariza said it was now up to the LRA to respond by making contact with the presidential peace team - currently based in Gulu - or religious and cultural leaders in the region. He added that the rebels should also be willing to assemble in various locations in Pader and Kitgum districts, and that "to avoid any confusion" they should notify the government before moving to arrange a safe passage.
In 2002 when a similar request was made, the LRA refused to assemble for fear that they would be attacked.
The offer comes 11 days after the LRA leader, Joseph Kony, declared a unilateral ceasefire. On Thursday, the government peace team, led by Salim Saleh, was supposed to meet LRA commanders but the rebels fled the scene after the Ugandan army deployed at the talks' venue.
MP for Aswa County and a member of the government peace team, Regan Okumu, welcomed the decision.
"It is definitely a good gesture," he told IRIN. "Peace building starts slowly and I think this is the beginning."
He said he hoped a meeting with the LRA would take place before Thursday. "We have not yet got into contact with the rebels but anytime now we expect to get in touch with LRA's top commanders with whom we shall negotiate."
Over the weekend, Museveni reiterated that he was willing to pardon Kony and other top LRA commanders under an amnesty if they gave up their rebellion, the BBC reported.
Since the ceasefire declaration, the UPDF says that 50 people have been abducted by the LRA and 16 killed. A total of 45 of the abductees have since been freed or "rescued".
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