Global Policy Forum

Uganda: LRA Gets Ready for War


By Paul Harera Sebikali & Rodney Muhumuza

February 6, 2007

A PREMATURE end to the Juba talks appears inevitable after the LRA's second-in-command said the rebel outfit was resolute in its rejection of the South Sudan capital as a venue for the talks. Vincent Otti yesterday dismissed the Uganda Government's insistence on Juba and warned: "If [President] Museveni does not want to shift to anywhere out of Sudan, then that is the end of the peace talks. We need somewhere else. If they reject, we can go back to war." Otti's terse warning was also in response to Kenya's refusal, on Sunday, to host the peace negotiations between the LRA and the Uganda government, saying it did not want the talks delayed by distractions of "venue or forum shopping".

The Ugandan rebels, who have been fighting for two decades, had said they would not return to talks in south Sudan's capital Juba and suggested Kenya or South Africa as alternative venues after Sudan's president vowed "to get rid of the LRA from Sudan". Mr Otti's remarks, delivered in response to Mr Museveni's condemnation of the rebel's demand for a new venue and mediator, could lead to a resumption of fighting and bring to an end a landmark cessation of hostilities agreement signed in August 2006. Mr Museveni told a local radio station in Gulu on Saturday that he was considering Plan B against the rebels. "I hope the LRA will listen to advice from leaders of Acholi sub region and be serious with the talks. If they don't, we will have to first liaise with the Government of South Sudan, DR Congo and the UN Secretary General to work out on their arrests," Mr Museveni said. "They will be arrested wherever they go, whether in Garamba, Central African Republic or any other country...I met with UN general secretary Ban Ki-moon in Ethiopia recently and we discussed this Kony issue."

It appears even the LRA's external advisors, on whom the indicted field commanders are increasingly depending for strategic guidance, are lost over the way forward. A London-based former LRA operative, who is consulted by the LRA, said he was aware that no other African government is willing to host the talks. "All governments have refused to host the LRA," he said on condition of anonymity. "The advice I give them is that they resolve the outstanding issues from Juba...but the LRA needs a guarantor for the talks." The LRA delegation to Juba rejected the peace talks mediator, South Sudan Vice-President Riek Machar, whom they accused of having a soft spot for the Ugandan government. Arguing that Dr Machar was not to be trusted and that South Sudan was no longer safe for the rebels, the LRA has been lobbying the Kenyan Government to host the talks. Its request has, however, been turned down, a statement from the Kenyan foreign ministry said on Sunday. Although the rebels had proposed Johannesburg as another possibility, it was still unclear if any other venue was being considered. Dr Machar told Daily Monitor yesterday that he was not giving up yet. "We are asking the LRA to return to Juba. It is the only way to ensure meaningful talks. All the other areas [as venue], I think, would not be a good idea for them," he said by phone. "It would be unfortunate of them to talk of war."

According to a letter the rebels sent UN Special Envoy for Northern Uganda Joachim Chissano, a copy of which Daily Monitor has seen, the rebels predicted the talks would collapse unless Dr Machar resigns as mediator. "They [talks] will collapse if Dr Riek Machar is to continue as a chief mediator because he is not [a] neutral player," the December 18, 2006 letter said. After his visit to Uganda in late January, Mr Chissano told reporters in Maputo that the peace process does not have a future unless President Museveni's government agrees to change the venue of the talks. Chissano negotiated peace with the LRA-like RENAMO which had brought untold suffering to his people for years. According to Dr Machar, the peace process is still on because there are "diplomatic negotiations" to resolve some outstanding issues from last year. "[That] UPDF in South Sudan withdraw out of Sudan if they [|LRA] are to remain in the East [Equatoria province] is under discussion," Dr Machar said. The cessation of hostilities agreement required all the rebels to assemble at two South Sudan areas - Ri-Kwangba in Western Equatoria and Owiny-Ki-Bul in Eastern Equatoria. Truce observers later reported that some LRA rebels had reported to Owiny-Ki-Bul only to disappear after UPDF soldiers allegedly camped dangerously close.

Daily Monitor reported yesterday that hundreds of LRA soldiers were leaving their Congo and South Sudan bases for the Central African Republic, a claim yet to be confirmed by the LRA's leadership. Otti has said the LRA leaders, who were indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), will not leave their hideouts unless the warrants of arrest for them are rescinded, a demand that was rejected by the government. "If they don't want peace, why should we now withdraw the ICC indictments? We would have worked for the ICC withdrawals if they were serious for peace," Mr Museveni said on Saturday. "If they (LRA) want us to leave southern Sudan, they should work for peace. If they bring peace, we shall leave south Sudan. Talk by Otti that our presence in South Sudan is threat to peace talks is nonsense. Our presence there is hope for peace in northern Uganda."

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