Tuesday, August 29, 2006
A twenty year war between the Ugandan government and the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army entered a new stage today as both sides initiated a ceasefire agreement.
At 0600 hours local time (0300 GMT) government soldiers returned to their barracks and rebel guns fell silent after a peace deal was signed on Saturday.
Under the deal, rebel forces, under leader Joseph Kony, will have 3 weeks to assemble at select locations in southern Sudan where they will escorted in safety by regional government troops. Kony and the LRA leadership are reportedly on the Chad–Democratic Republic of the Congo border and are planning on flying to the assembly locations.
Kony’s second in command, General Otti appeared on radio in Gulu on Sunday night to address his troops declaring the ceasefire and ordering them to lay down their weapons.
For their part, the Ugandan government has promised to respect the ceasefire and not attack the rebel troops as they assemble.
An army spokesperson, Major Felix Kulaije, announced today that “The cessation of hostilities is in effect now and involves the Ugandan army halting their search-and-destroy operations.”
State Minister for Defence Ruth Nankabirwa told journalists “we are now in a period of silence… I pray that none of the sides violate the cessation of hostilities agreement.”
Once rebel troops have been gathered under the protective wing of the Ugandan Peoples’ Defence Force, extensive peace talks are due to begin. Key issues to be discussed will likely be the return of thousands of children kidnapped by the Lord’s Resistance Army for use as child soldiers, and Kony’s status as a wanted war criminal. The Ugandan government surprised many outsiders by promising to protect the LRA leader in return for negotiations despite being wanted by the International Criminal Court.
A modest wooden hotel in Juba was the scene of this weekend’s landmark talks which secured the ceasefire to end two decades of conflict. The Ugandan government has been fighting the Lord’s Resistance Army since the 1980s, in a war that has caught up over 20,000 children, many becoming child soldiers or sex slaves for the LRA.
With Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni warning that hostilities would begin again if talks collapsed, the international community will be following the upcoming talks very closely.