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LRA rebels ask for peace talks with government

[Uganda] Elderly man soon after his arrival at the child protection unit (CPU) in Gulu. The rebels had forced him to carry their loot for days with little food and water, then released him.
(Sven Torfinn/IRIN)

The rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) has called for the resumption of peace talks with the Ugandan government, a call mediators say rekindles hope for a peaceful settlement of the 20-year civil war in the north of the country.

The chief mediator in the on-and-off talks and former Ugandan minister, Betty Bigombe, said on Wednesday that LRA deputy commander Vincent Otti had contacted her and expressed willingness to resume talks with the government.

Otti, the number two in the LRA hierarchy, called the BBC on Tuesday to announce that the rebels were willing to negotiate an end to the brutal war that has ravaged northern Uganda.

"We have been talking these days, and it is through these talks that we can get moving," Bigombe told IRIN.

She emphasised, however, that she needed to find out the government’s view on Otti’s proposition.

An aid worker in northern Uganda who preferred not to be named said the overture by the rebels was encouraging. "The statement by Otti is a positive move, considering that he is even saying that he is ready to talk to the ICC [International Criminal Court]," he said.

In October, the Hague-based ICC issued arrest warrants for Kony, Otti and three other LRA commanders, one of whom has since died.

Otti told BBC radio that he was willing to cooperate with the ICC, but added that government officials should also face justice at the same court because they "were responsible for some of the crimes committed in northern Uganda."

"I am Lt-Gen Vincent Otti and want [to] talk with the government of Uganda to end the rebellion, because now we fought for 20 years - we are ready for this talk from today," Otti said via satellite telephone.

The Uganda government welcomed the offer but hoped it was "serious and genuine".

"If the LRA is serious this time, the government has its doors always open and will always want to end the conflict through dialogue," explained Ruhakana Rugunda, the interior minister who led the government team during last year’s talks.

Otti maintained that he was speaking with the permission of rebel leader Joseph Kony.

Attempts to hold peace talks between the rebels and the government collapsed last December when last-minute hitches thwarted the signing of the first ceasefire agreement.

Within hours, President Yoweri Museveni ordered the resumption of the military campaign against the rebellion - a move observers said curtailed any further peace attempts.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed and over 1.5 million displaced in northern Uganda since the beginning of the conflict.

The rebels want to replace Museveni's government with one based on the Biblical Ten Commandments. They are accused of massive abuses in the region, including the abduction of at least 20,000 children who are used as porters, fighters and sex slaves to LRA commanders.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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