Ugandan govt and LRA rebels sign deal to advance peace talks

By Peter Clottey

The government of Uganda and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebels will Thursday discuss justice and accountability, the next items on the agenda of the invigorated peace talks currently underway in juba, southern Sudan. This comes after both sides signed an agreement Wednesday in juba to address problems facing those affected by the LRA's twenty-one year-old insurgency. Sources say the minister of state for foreign affairs (in charge of international affairs), Henry Okello, signed on behalf of the government while Martin Ojul, the LRA 's peace delegation chairman signed for the rebels.

Major Felix Kulayigye is the spokesman for Uganda's ministry of defense. From the capital, Kampala, he told VOA that although the agreement has taken a while to be signed, it's a sign of good things to come.

"After a long wait since December, you can imagine, finally we have signed the agenda item number two, which was pending since December 22nd 2006. This agenda item is called comprehensive solutions. It aims at addressing what was regarded as anomalies in the social and economic development in northern Uganda, in all the war affected areas," Kulayigye said.

He explained what the newly signed agreement means for the whole peace process.

"This means that we are now set to proceed to the agenda item number three. This concludes two agenda items; one was the cessation of hostilities agreement, which was signed on the 26th August last year. Now agenda item number two has been pending for all this while, finally it is now signed. So it sets ground to proceed to agenda number three, which is justice and accountability," he pointed out.

Kulayigye regretted the alleged recent killing of seven people by the LRA rebels, which he said could have potentially derailed the peace talks currently in Juba.

"It is unfortunate indeed that we have had to make this accusation. It is not a false one, it's because that's what happened. Unfortunately, some people were regarding it as a tit for tat because the rebels had accused of attacking them, but it shouldn't be reduced to that. This was a bit unfortunate the incident has happened, between Bibiya and Anamole, and we really strongly hope that it should be THE last one to happen," Kulayigye said.

He said the government's main objective is to achieve peace in the war- affected areas.

"We have been avoiding to mention some of these things, in the interest of the peace talks. And we pray that LRA and their combatants wherever they are would avoid any temptation of committing anything that would indeed affect the peace process. Nonetheless, whatever happened on the 30th of April, we are still determined to continue with the negotiations in Juba because we are interested in the bigger picture, which is permanent peace for our people," he noted.

Kulayigye said he is sure the peace process will continue Thursday.

"Under the normal circumstances, the discussion should continue Thursday, even though the leader of the government delegation has had to move out of Juba on other official assignment, which however is temporary and he would go back, the rest of the team remains in Juba to continue with the discussion," he said.

Kulayigye explained the main issues to be discussed Thursday.

"This having been a war, and indeed there has been accusations and counter accusations of violations of human rights, there should be an attempt to address the question of justice and accountability. As you will remember, there are these indictments from the International Criminal Court. Indeed the peace process cannot be complete, cannot be durable unless there is a clear undertaking to address issues of justice, accountability and dealing with impunity on both sides, if at all there are any crimes being mentioned on either sides," he said.