Uganda peace talks with LRA rebels set to resume

By Tim Cocks

KAMPALA, April 24 (Reuters) - Peace talks aiming to end one of Africa's most brutal conflicts are due to restart on Thursday, three months after Ugandan rebel negotiators walked out.

After two decades of fighting that killed tens of thousands and spawned nearly two million refugees, many Ugandans are desperate for the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebels and government to agree a lasting peace.

"They have to push talks to a conclusion this time," said Walter Ochora, district commissioner of Gulu, northern Uganda, at the epicentre of the conflict. "People (displaced by war) must have the chance to go back to their homes."

Many of northern Uganda's refugees live in squalid conditions lacking medicine and clean water.

Most depend on food aid from the U.N. because of the risk of attack by marauding rebels -- notorious for slicing body parts off victims and kidnapping children -- if they venture outside their camps to grow food.


A truce signed between the two sides last August at talks in the south Sudanese capital, Juba, has largely held up.

"We have seen a visible impact since August on those in camps from the allaying of (security) fears," said Chulho Hyun, spokesman for the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF) in Uganda.

But in January, the rebels walked out of talks, citing security fears after Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir vowed to "get rid of the LRA from Sudan".

They backed down in March after the new U.N. envoy for Uganda's conflict, former Mozambique President Joaquim Chissano, met LRA leader Joseph Kony near his eastern Congolese jungle hideout.

Chissano promised Kony he would expand the mediating team beyond the untrusted south Sudan to include delegates from other African countries.

"Our concerns were addressed. The process will be carried out in a more conducive manner," LRA spokesman Godfrey Ayoo said. "We really think this is a good chance for peace."

This next phase of talks seeks lasting political solutions to the humanitarian catastrophe the war created, including helping refugees go home.

Both sides expect it to be signed quickly, before they tackle the thornier question of accountability for war crimes.

Kony and four other commanders are wanted in the International Criminal Court over allegations of killing civilians, rape and child abduction.

The rebels say they will never come out of the bush to sign a deal unless the Hague-based court drops the case.


Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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