The renewed truce between the Ugandan government and the Lord’s Resistance Army has boosted hopes that upcoming talks may lead to progress towards peace.
A new truce was signed between the Government of Uganda and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebel group on Saturday 14 April, renewing hope in the efforts to end the 20–year insurgency in northern Uganda.
Uganda’s Internal Affairs Minister Ruhakana Rugunda and LRA leader Joseph Kony met at Ri–Kwangba on the border between Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and renewed the cease-fire, which had expired in February.
In the meeting, chaired by the United Nations Secretary–General’s special envoy in the region, former Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano, they agreed that the new truce would last until the end of June.
They also agreed to resume peace talks in Juba, southern Sudan, on 26 April, and have the same mediator, Sudan–Vice President Riek Machar.
The LRA was granted its request for six weeks within which to assemble its forces in southern Sudan.
Church people in northern Uganda have welcomed the development with cautious optimism.
‘It is a good thing because we in the north are desperate for peace. Our top priority is peace. People are yearning to go back to their home villages,’ Bishop Benjamin Ojwang of Kitgum Diocese said.
‘We still have hope but we don’t know when (a lasting solution will come),’ Bishop Ojwang said, making comparisons to the Second Coming, and to the Israelites who waited hopefully for a messiah although many did not see him in their lifetime.
He mentioned that Kitgum town is calm and there are no more night commuters - people moving to the town each evening to sleep in shelters for fear of attacks by the LRA rebels.
He said that many people had responded to the government’s initiative to decongest the Internally Displaced People’s (IDP) camps by enabling people to go to smaller, protected ‘satellite camps’ nearer their own homes.
Such people can now more easily cultivate their gardens for food, thereby gradually building up confidence until they can return to their homes permanently.
‘Pader is calm. People are happy and can even move freely at night. They have no fear now because the LRA are now in southern Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.’
The Revd Willy Akena, Information Officer of the Diocese of Northern Uganda, reported, ‘The news of resumption of talks brings another window of hope for the people in northern Uganda. My own opinion is that the (talks are) taking too long and, if not carefully handled, (they may) take years and years.’
‘The people in Gulu do not see any sign that the talks will automatically bring total peace, and to them the most important thing is peace now so that people can resume normal life,’ the Revd Akena said.
He recently visited an IDP camp in Amuru, a new district curved out of Gulu. The camp has 51,330 inhabitants.
‘I met (a local council leader of the area] and he told me that people are able to visit their original villages, do a bit of digging and come back to sleep in the camps as they are not sure of their security.
‘Of course, there are some new camps created nearer to people’s original villages, so the issue of walking long distances has reduced a bit,’ the Revd Akena pointed out.
The people are praying that the peace talks in Juba will progress well this time round. In December 2006 the talks stalled when the rebels walked out, saying they feared for their lives, and demanded a new venue and new mediators.
The International Criminal Court wants Kony and his top four commanders, Vincent Otti (Kony’s deputy), Okot Odhiambo, Dominic Ongwen and Raska Lukwiya, for crimes against humanity. It was reported, however, that the Ugandan army had killed Lukwiya last year.
Item from: CMS – Christian Mission Society