NAIROBI, April 27 (Reuters) - Washington and London should appoint envoys to help ensure Uganda's government and Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebels do not squander their best hope for peace in 20 years, an influential think-tank said on Friday.
Talks resumed in south Sudan on Thursday, with U.N. envoy and former Mozambique president Joaquim Chissano warning that if squandered, the opportunity may never return to end a war that has killed tens of thousands and displaced 1.7 million people.
"The Juba peace process has advanced further than any previous initiative and is the best hope for a negotiated resolution," said the International Crisis Group (ICG). "But the favourable political constellation is likely to be fleeting."
Among a raft of recommendations by the ICG, which analyses trouble-spots round the world, was that the British and U.S. governments also appoint senior diplomats to work with Chissano.
The envoys could then jointly push for success in Juba, the capital of south Sudan, while also seeking a separate process to plan reconstruction in the shattered north of Uganda, and ensure the government refrains from threats to pursue LRA rebels into neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, ICG said.
"Both sides must be persuaded through the use of targeted leverage that peace is their only worthwhile option."
Together with the United Nations, London and Washington's envoys to the peace process should also work out a regional military strategy to prevent fighting flaring again should the Juba talks fail, the think-tank added.
"KONY THE KEY"
Britain is Uganda's former colonial ruler and a big aid contributor, while Washington makes no secret of its impatience for an end to one of the world's most brutal yet neglected wars.
Led by self-declared prophet Joseph Kony and born out of the ethnic Acholi community in 1986, the LRA guerrillas are notorious for mutilating civilians and kidnapping children.
In camps where they were supposed to receive refuge, north Ugandans have instead suffered horrors, with 1,000 people a week dying from treatable diseases, ICG said, quoting local figures.
"HIV rates in the north hover near 12 percent, twice the national average. Over 12 percent of females aged 30-44 are widows...Women have faced widespread sexual and domestic violence," it added in its new report on Uganda.
The think-tank urged international donors, who finance 40 percent of Uganda's budget, to use that influence in favour of peace. It also called for a more representative LRA team.
"The LRA delegation, mainly diaspora Acholi detached from the conflict, lacks competency, credibility and cohesiveness ... In the rigidly hierarchical LRA, Joseph Kony is the key to a peace deal, and efforts to engage him must be enhanced."
Perhaps the biggest sticking point, however, remains International Criminal Court (ICC) indictments for Kony and four of his commanders, analysts say. Kony has said he will never agree to peace unless the warrants are scrapped.
But ICG said the warrants "helped bring the LRA to the table, keep it engaged and are not insurmountable obstacles" given options like traditional Acholi reconciliation ceremonies after which officials could call for the warrants to be dropped.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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