Uganda peace talks resume in south Sudan

By Skye Wheeler

JUBA, Sudan, April 26 (Reuters) - Peace talks between Uganda's government and Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) guerrillas aimed at ending two decades of civil war resumed on Thursday, three months after the rebels walked out of the negotiations.

Delegates from both sides entered a conference room to begin the face-to-face talks, which were opened by the chief mediator, South Sudanese Vice President Riek Machar.

They were also accompanied by the new U.N. envoy for Uganda's peace efforts, former Mozambique President Joaquim Chissano, and several Western diplomats.

"We are here to solve problems. Our expectation is things will go smoothly," LRA delegation head Martin Ojul told Reuters ahead of the meeting in the South Sudanese capital Juba.

The head of the government team, Internal Affairs Minister Ruhakana Rugunda, said: "We are optimistic."

The insurgency, led by guerrillas notorious for murdering and mutilating civilians and kidnapping children to recruit as soldiers, has killed tens of thousands of people and forced 1.7 million into refugee camps.

The desperate conditions in the camps, which lack adequate water and medicine, led the United Nations to describe northern Uganda as one of the world's worst humanitarian catastrophes.

A truce signed between the two sides last August at talks in Juba raised hopes of an end to one of Africa's longest wars.

But in January the rebels walked out, citing security fears after Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir threatened them.

They agreed to come back in March when Chissano met LRA leader Joseph Kony near his eastern Congolese jungle hideout.

The biggest sticking point remains International Criminal Court (ICC) indictments against Kony and four other commanders on charges of mass murder, rape and child abduction.

"Our first priorities are security for our LRA leaders and resolution of the ICC issue," Ojul said.

The rebels have said 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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