Uganda: Talks delayed over accountability questions

KAMPALA, 11 May 2007 (IRIN) - Talks aimed at ending two decades of fighting in northern Uganda could not resume on Friday as scheduled because of disagreement over how to handle issues of accountability and reconciliation in the war that has killed thousands.

Ugandan and rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) sources confirmed that they had presented their positions to the mediators and that these would form the basis of debate when the talks resume, probably next week, in the Southern Sudanese capital of Juba.

"We have made our proposal on agenda item number three which is concerned with reconciliation and accountability. We were supposed to return to Juba today [Friday] morning and resume the talks, but we were informed by the mediators that there were some small things that have come up and that they were still consulting and analysing both our proposals and that of the LRA," the Ugandan government delegation spokesman Captain Bahoku Barigye said by telephone.

The LRA delegate to the talks, Justin Labeja, confirmed that the LRA had already made its proposals, but could not divulge much about the contents, saying they could only be released when they were being debated.

But Barigye said the Ugandan delegation was seeking acceptance by the LRA that it had committed atrocities in northern Uganda: "Really the point is that the LRA should accept that they committed atrocities and apologise. If they accept, then are the people willing to accept their apology and if so, what [form of] justice [should be taken]?"

Labeja said the talks may resume on 15 May for the negotiators to start dwelling on one of the most controversial issues of the talks. This item will address the LRA's fears about the indictments by the International Criminal Court against five of its leaders, including Joseph Kony and his deputy, Vincent Otti.

The LRA has insisted the ICC drops the indictments before it will sign a comprehensive agreement with the Ugandan government. Instead, it wants to resort to Uganda's legal system, including the traditional Acholi justice system known as the Mato oput.

Labeja repeated these fears, saying the ICC stance on the talks would weigh on the process if the indictments remained in place. "If the ICC is still standing as it is currently, the problems will still be there for the peace process," he said.

The two sides signed an agreement on 2 May setting targets on what had to be achieved at the peace talks by agreeing on "principles of comprehensive solutions to the political, social and economic problems in Uganda, mainly the northern region - the bedrock of the rebellion. Key to the agreement is the Ugandan people's right to exercise universal principles of democracy."

The talks that resumed in Juba in April are seen as the best chance to end the conflict that has claimed thousands of lives and displaced almost two million people.