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Thursday, August 10, 2006

Rescue bid for Uganda rebel talks

Mediators are trying to save Ugandan peace talks threatened by the walkout of the Lord's Resistance Army rebels.

Ugandan government spokesman Robert Kabushenga told the BBC that the government team was in discussions with the mediators to find a way forward.

The LRA says it will not come back until the Ugandan government follows its example by declaring a ceasefire.

But the government says the LRA should sign a deal to prove its commitment to ending the 20-year conflict.

The talks brokered by the government of south Sudan are considered to be the best chance of ending the war in northern Uganda.

Ugandan conflict analyst Barney Afako said this stumbling block should not come as a surprise as unrealistic demands by both parties arise in all talks.

"A process of negotiations is always a process of testing each other because you're moving from an extreme position of distrust, and beginning to build trust in a very closed artificial environment of talks," he told the BBC's Network Africa programme.

'Not extreme'

Mr Afako says the positions of both parties are not extreme, but they need to agree on a formula for a ceasefire.

"The government wants some of that detail to come out upfront so that you don't have simply a declaration of a cessation [of hostilities] but commanders on the ground don't know how to act," he says.

Mr Kabushenga said the government was unsure of the rebels' commitment to peace, as they had breached previous ceasefires and harmed innocent people.

"The point is very simple, we have said that if you are committed, then do it on paper because then it is verifiable. Sign that you are committed to a comprehensive peace agreement," he told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme on Wednesday.

LRA spokesman Obonyo Olweny said that during the recent recess in talks, the rebels had been told by mediators that a unilateral ceasefire was a precondition for the resumption of negotiations.

As a consequence, the rebels had declared a unilateral ceasefire, starting last Friday.

"Therefore we think it is inappropriate for the talks to resume without the government of Uganda declaring a cessation of hostilities," he told the BBC.

The southern Sudanese vice-president and head mediator, Riek Machar, had asked for the LRA's top leaders to take part after earlier peace talks failed.

But the LRA's deputy leader Vincent Otti told the BBC that the southern Sudanese town of Juba was not safe because an International Criminal Court (ICC) warrant for the LRA leaders' arrest was still in force and Ugandan government forces were present in the town.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has offered the rebels a full and guaranteed amnesty and protection as long as they renounce violence.

Tens of thousands have been killed in the conflict and two million people have been displaced.

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