Ugandan government officials and local leaders from the northern Acholi region have held talks with commanders from the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in a bush clearing near the Sudan-Democratic Republic of Congo border on Friday.
"It is my hope that we will not leave this place without signing a document which suspends hostilities," the chairman, Joachim Chissano, said after Ruhakana Rugunda and Joseph Kony shook hands to demonstrate they want a peaceful end to conflict in northern Uganda.
Rugunda is Uganda’s internal affairs minister and leader of the government delegation to the talks, while Kony has led the rebels since 1998. Chissano is the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the areas affected by the LRA insurgency and former president of Mozambique.
The talks are expected to last two days, during which time both sides hope to agree to formally resume talks and also renew a ceasefire which expired in February.
Photo: The Daily Monitor
|Joseph Kony, leader of the Ugandan rebel group, the Lord's Resistance Army|
Kony was first invited to speak, followed by Rugunda and then the mediator, the southern Sudanese Vice-President, Riek Machar.
About 70 delegates are in Ri-Kwangba, including representatives from Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa and Mozambique. The Ugandan delegation includes Kony’s relatives, traditional leaders and members of parliament from the war-affected districts of northern Uganda, and two bishops.
Before travelling to the talks, Rugunda expressed optimism, saying in Kampala that the meeting would cover sticking points that have led to a stalemate in the northern Uganda peace process. "After clearing the sticking points, we shall resume talks in Juba."
The on-off talks, which are intended to end the 21-year-old war in northern Uganda, started in July under Machar's mediation, but a stalemate arose after the rebels demanded a new venue and another mediator, saying they feared for their lives in Juba and that the southern Sudanese Vice-President was biased.
According to aid agencies, an estimated 230,000 displaced people returned to their villages in 2006 thanks to improved security after the talks began. However, up to 1.2 million more remain in camps, while some have moved to satellite camps nearer their villages to gain access to their farms.
Photo: Euan Denholm/IRIN
|The tent where the meeting between Jan Egeland, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), took place, near the Sudan-DRC border, 12 November 2006.|
Friday's talks were being held in an upgraded bush clearing in Ri-Kwangba. Tents, chairs and a generator were installed and refreshments were being served to the delegates. Guards from the Sudan People's Liberation Army and the LRA guarded the venue.
The conflict started when Kony took charge of a two-year-old regional rebellion against the Ugandan government, sparking what aid groups have described as the world's most neglected conflict.
The rebellion also spilled into southern Sudan. Last week, a report published by USAID and the Famine Early Warning System Network, said LRA attacks on civilian populations in southern Sudan pose a significant threat to food security and overall stability in Equatoria states.
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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