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More Needed To Spur Ugandan Rebels To Peace

UN Aid Chief Says More Needed To Spur Ugandan Rebels To Take Steps Towards Peace

New York, Nov 23 2006 4:00AM

The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has reiterated its pledge to release non-combatants and to respect the cessation of hostilities agreement it signed this year with the Ugandan Government, the top United Nations aid official said today, cautioning that the rebel group’s leadership is still deeply wary and the international community must gῥnerate confidence by promoting regular face-to-face talks.

Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland told a <"http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs//2006/sc8875.doc.htm">meeting of the Security Council, on returning from his latest visit to Africa, that the peace process to end the brutal 20-year civil war in northern Uganda has reached an extremely vulnerable stage.

There has been little substantive progress since the cessation of hostilities agreement was signed in August, Mr. Egeland said, and during a landmark meeting earlier this month at a remote jungle outpost, he was “struck by the continued paranoia among the senior LRA leadership.”

The peace process and the eventual disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of ex-combatants (DDR) process will have to build confidence in the LRA “through regular face-to-face meetings with representatives of the mediation team and the international community,” he said.

Mr. Egeland said this paranoia also helps to explain the disconnect between the general political demands of the LRA delegation in Juba, southern Sudan, where peace talks are taking place, “and the rather more immediate interests of the commanders in security arrangements.”

But he added that the LRA deputy leader Vincent Otti told him by telephone today that the group, which became notorious for human rights abuses during the civil war, had promised to respect the cessation of hostilities agreement and release non-combatants, as well as to re-assemble in agreed areas so they can stand down.

The Under-Secretary-General, who also serves as the Emergency Relief Coordinator, urged Council members to give immediate assistance to assembly areas to make the stand down more palatable.

He also called on them to help establish more permanent facilities in Ri-Kwangba, on the border of Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), so that the LRA, Uganda and mediators can have more regular meetings, and to continue to fund those mediation efforts.

During its long conflict with Uganda, the LRA abducted thousands of children and then used them as soldiers or porters, while subjecting some to torture and allocating many girls to senior officers in a form of institutional rape. Senior members of the LRA have been indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Mr. Egeland said the issue of the ICC indictments was only marginally raised by the LRA leadership during their encounter this month.

Meanwhile, Radhika Coomaraswamy, UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, voiced her concern at the fate of children still held in the ranks of the LRA inside northern Uganda.

Ms. Coomaraswamy said she reiterated the international calls on Mr. Kony to immediately release women, children and non-combatants in compliance with his previous commitments.

Ends

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