Uganda Parliament Backs Peace

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“For the desire for peace and reconciliation, let us give a blind eye to justice and support the process,� said Busongola MP Christopher Kibanzanga. The Minister for Primary Education and MP for Chekwii County, Peter Lokeris, dismissed the perception that peace talks and reconciliation are for cowards.

(Uganda’s Museveni…Parliament wants a peace deal with rebels). 

The Ugandan Parliament yesterday endorsed a resolution calling on the International Criminal Court (ICC) to revoke the indictments against the top rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) leadership, only a day after the Hague-based tribunal said it would not be rushed into any decision.   

The House's call comes two days after LRA second-in-command Vincent Otti's assertion that rebel leader Joseph Kony would not surrender unless the ICC scraped the indictments against five top LRA commanders. Separately, Otti in an interview said the LRA would welcome an American role in the on-going peace talks. He was referring to a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice demanding an elevated U.S. involvement, written by Senator Russell Feingold and signed by others including John Kerry. The letter was first published in The Black Star News (www.blackstarnews.com). 

The Ugandan Parliamentary motion was tabled by MP Stephen Wasike Mugeni (Samia Bugwe North) and passed unanimously. The members called on government to be more reconciliatory, and to ensure a logical conclusion to the talks, on-going in the Southern Sudanese city of Juba. Though a motion for a resolution of Parliament does not have a legal effect, the lawmakers believe it will force President Yoweri Museveni to do quick business with the ICC. [Editor’s note: It’s unclear if the Ugandan President has such powers. The ICC’s rules indicate that only a permanent member of the UN Security Council can “suspend� indictments for a one-year renewable period]. 

“That Parliament supports the ongoing negotiations between the government and the LRA, and pays glowing tribute to the government of South Sudan for the tireless efforts that they are putting as mediators,� the motion reads in part. Kasiro MP Elijah Okupa pleaded with the House, presided over by the Deputy Speaker Rebecca Kadaga, to implore President Museveni to persuade the ICC to withdraw the indictments.

It also emerged yesterday that Uganda has never approached the ICC for a possible withdrawal of the indictments. Information Minister Ali Kirunda Kivejinja told a press conference that the Government of Uganda had “at no one time sought a withdrawal of the indictments against the leaders of the LRA� and asked the wanted commanders to come out of the bush and apologize for their crimes as a prerequisite to the offer of amnesty. 

“In our case, Kony was outside Uganda. We could not get him from Sudan.  We could not get him from Congo.  So if he comes out, we can then resort to Matoput, a traditional Acholi justice system, and then we shall convince the ICC ,� to drop the charges, he told journalists in Kampala. The government has already offered full amnesty to the LRA rebels should a comprehensive peace pact be reached and Parliament wants the Executive to show more seriousness.  

“For the desire for peace and reconciliation, let us give a blind eye to justice and support the process,� said Busongola MP Christopher Kibanzanga. The Minister for Primary Education and MP for Chekwii County, Peter Lokeris, dismissed the perception that peace talks and reconciliation are for cowards. “I want to encourage Joseph Kony and Vincent Otti that the act they are about to undertake is for brave people. Reconciliation and talking peace does not mean that you a coward,� he said.

The State Minister for Defense, Ruth Nankabirwa said that government contacted ICC for help because it's an ally in search for peace in Northern Uganda. "We don't regret consulting the ICC for assistance. We were simply pushed by the actions of the LRA because they were outside our jurisdiction," Nankabirwa said. However, she said that it's not impossible for government to go back to ICC and explain the current situation in search for the same peace it had gone for when ICC indicted the top LRA commanders. 

"It is not difficult to handle the ICC. They should leave this issue to us. We know what to do since we all need peace to prevail in Northern Uganda," she said. While addressing Parliament on the current truce in Northern Uganda, the minister for Defense  Dr. Chrispus Kiyonga said that government is committed to restore peace in Northern Uganda. However he expressed fears over the post-war conflicts that are likely to emerge among the local communities. 

"We need to institute a truth and reconciliation commission that would address matters of accountability and justice. We have always talked about forgiveness. This is the right time to forgive and cultivate a new path," Kiyonga said. Reacting to the motion, Prof. Ogenga Latigo, the leader of Opposition warned government against calling Joseph Kony a loser. "We must all appreciate that Kony can't be a loser but it's only our country that loses. This is not the time for pointing fingers. We must all work towards peace for Northern Uganda," Latigo said.

He also proposed that the Speaker of Parliament, Edward Ssekandi replies Kony's letter and constitutes a Parliamentary delegation to deliver the letter to the Chief Mediator in Southern Sudan in appreciation for the current cessation of hostilities and the rebels' commitment to peace.   

Separately, the  LRA's Otti has ordered his forces in northern Uganda to start trekking and forget about free transportation to the assembly areas. The government last week offered to airlift LRA rebels to the southern Sudan bases of Owiny-ki-Bul and Ri-Kwangba, but Otti yesterday declined the offer, saying the rebels must walk on foot.

“All LRA fighters and commanders will have to walk to the assembling areas. Our legs are our vehicles,� Otti said at a local radio station based in Northern Uganda. The rebels have until September 19 to converge around the two assembly areas. It was not clear if Otti felt frustrated that government had delayed to fulfill its pledge or whether it was a unilateral decision.

Reports early in the week spoke of commanders and fighters being stranded because of a communication blackout. Now Otti has ordered all the LRA fighters in Gulu, Kitgum, Gulu and Amuru districts to move northwards towards the designated assembly areas.

“You should all move northwards. You should stop north and south movements. This will cause confusion,� Otti directed, adding that no man should be left behind. “I hope by September19, all LRA will be in the assembling areas. Give us a few days, say two or three,� he said. Otti called upon the local leaders in northern Uganda to help direct those LRA fighters who might still be in the region beyond September 19 to head to southern Sudan. “I call upon you people, if you meet any of our fighters loitering around, take them to local leaders who will direct them towards Sudan. We don't want any of them to remain hanging around. I know some may not yet be aware of the peace process.�

The LRA commander assured the people of Acholi that peace would return to the north and called upon those affected by the war to have hope. “We LRA would not be the ones to cause that,� Otti said, acknowledging that the LRA would not want to be responsible for a bungled peace process. Otti, who refused to disclose the location from which he had received the phone call, said the governments of Uganda and South Sudan should not expect the LRA to gather deep inside Owiny-ki-Bul, for safety reasons.

“Owiny-ki-Bul is mine infested, so our people will be at the periphery. The Arabs and SPLA planted the mines. People should forget about us going deep into Owiny-ki-Bul,� Otti said. Asked about when their team and government would sign the peace deal, Otti appealed to both parties involved to tread carefully and steadily. “Let people not hurry the peace process, we want to go step by step. You can't jump from the ground floor of a storied building up to fourth floor, is it possible? You climb one at a time,� he said. 

Speaking on K fm, a local radio station on September 5, Otti said the LRA welcomes U.S. involvement in the ongoing peace talks. “About the USA that is very good because we would like to use international observers so that peace talks become more meaningful�, said Otti. His comments follow the letter written by Feingold and signed by other U.S lawmakers. Otti said he wanted to return into normal business if a successful agreement were signed, but declined to give details of what Kony wanted to do outside rebellion.

Ssebaggala writes for The Black Star News from Uganda.

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