Anglican Bishop Nelson Onono-Onweng of Northern Uganda has told a delegation of the World Council of Churches (WCC) to the region that a rebel war with the government is finally over despite some recent reports of flare ups.
"We are now in a different environment. We are now in a situation of rebuilding lives. We are in the process of reconstructing this place," Onono-Onweng told the WCC group that is part of a program to visit situations of conflict in different parts of the world.
Still, other church leaders the delegation met said they are concerned the rebel Lord's Resistance Army led by Joseph Kony is delaying the signing of a final peace agreement.
Onono-Onweng is part of the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative, a grouping of Roman Catholic, Anglican, Muslim and traditional leaders that has striven to attain peace in the region. Kony's rebel movment began fighting 20 years ago against what it said was the marginalization of the people of northern Uganda.
"Although the violence has ended, it is still in the hearts of people. There is still fear because Kony is still in the bush," said Onono-Onweng. He said there is a need now to assist those who are returning to their homes. "Some have not gone home. Others are not sure. What if Kony comes back? some ask. They still have doubts. In my diocese nearly 70 to 80 percent have gone home. In neighboring Lango diocese it is nearly 100 percent."
The WCC team, which is in Uganda from October 27 to November 2, is meeting church leaders, government officials and members of civil society in Kampala and northern Uganda.
The Revd Joseph Oneka, head of the human rights and good governance department in the Uganda Joint Christian Council secretariat, told the delegation the "greatest concern of the churches" was that the peace agreement has not yet been signed.
"If they don't sign the agreement, the conflict could re-emerge. This could have unpredictable consequences on the community," said Oneka.
In Gulu, northern Uganda, the team heard from local communities as well as former child combatants who have left the bush following a government amnesty or who have escaped from the rebel ranks.
"They abducted me when I was going home from school. We walked long distances. They told me they wanted to make me a good soldier," Thomas Owiny, a former child combatant, told Ecumenical News International in Gulu showing scars and leg wounds. "They beat us and made us carry heavy loads. I managed to escape when there was heavy fighting near the Sudanese border. I was injured. They left me behind. I crawled away and escaped."
In 2006, the government and the rebels signed a truce and two years later they signed a cease-fire that stopped short of an all-out peace agreement. The ceasefire has brought relative peace to the region, where U.N. statistics show nearly 2 million people have been displaced by the war.
"We became very insistent in putting our case to the government and rebels to talk, and said they must talk peace," said Onono-Onweng.
The bishop said he had met Kony, who claims to be inspired by the Ten Commandments in the Bible, and Onono-Onweng had even said once to the government that the rebel leader was serious about peace talks.
"But now when we talk, I think I do not understand him very well. When he turned very violent, when he murdered his second in command ... I began to see something
more dangerous than I had seen," said Onono-Onweng. "I don't think Kony is serious. What was left for him was to sign, but he refused."
Ecumenical News International - by Fredrick Nzwili