Uganda Foes Hint At War

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(Otti, right, shown with rebel commander Joseph Kony, fears a government trap).

The saber rattling continues between Uganda government and LRA rebels with both sides hinting they are ready to resume war if the Juba Peace Talks fail.

Last week President Yoweri Museveni said that if the peace talks in Juba do not yield anything meaningful by December 31st then it is as good as calling off the process so “other� means can be taken up. The statement hints at a military option.

Vincent Otti, the rebels' second in command indicated that fire would be met with fire, in an interview. “President Museveni is welcome to come and find us here but let him remember that we shall not sit and see him just come to us with his plan B,� he said, referring to their locations in the bush.

The conflict has caused the deaths of many thousands and nearly 2 million civilians have been displaced from their homes in the northern part of the country.

The Juba Talks to end the country’s 20-year civil war is at another stalemate. Otti has demanded that Ugandan forces, known as the Uganda People’s Defense Force (UPDF), withdraw from Sudanese territory before he allows his rebels to assemble at designated locations in Owinyi-kibul in Southern Sudan, as required under a ceasefire pact between the guerrillas and Uganda government.

“I will not allow my team to go to Owinyi-kibul,� Otti said, in the telephone interview yesterday. “Let them stay in the bushes there and if possible be killed one by one and not as a group in Owinyi-kibul. I will not allow that because I know it could be a plan on my people.� The rebel commander believes the Uganda army wants to surround his forces.

He says the designated assembly area is still currently not safe for his troops because of the presence of the Uganda army, according to his intelligence reposts. Last week however, Otti had said that if he continued to get investigative reports from his team of improvements he would ask his forces to consider moving to Owinyi-kibul.

UPDF spokesman Maj. Felix Kulayigye said that the government of Uganda did not give the deadline for the LRA to assemble in the designated areas. “The first deadline was arrived at by the negotiating team in Juba so we expect that the LRA should comply just like the UPDF is complying,� Kulayigye said. He added that the question of the UPDF being in the southern Sudan is far beyond the Juba discussions. “Our presence was purely through the understanding with the Khartoum government sometime in 2000. It therefore cannot be a precondition for the LRA with the requirements of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement that was enforced by the addendum signed last week.� If the rebels didn’t assemble, they would be in violation of the ceasefire deal, Kulayigye said.

Yesterday intelligence sources in Sudan intimated movement of people towards Owinyi-kibul had taken place, leading to a denial by Otti. “I have not asked my people to go to Owinyi-kibul and they should not go there. Let them remain in the wilderness and eat fruits like they have done before,� he said.

Responding to Otti’s remarks about Plan B, or the military option, Kulayigye said if the Commander In Chief, Museveni, was convinced that the peace talks are not heading anywhere, then the other alternative could be implemented. “We are more than ready that what we have achieved is not reversed,� he said. 

“Nonetheless I would like to emphasize that we would very much wish that the peace process in Juba succeed by all means but if it’s the choice of the LRA not to continue with the peace process then we shall give them what they want,� he added.

Kampala also rejected the rebel’s call to send representatives to tour war affected areas in the country for consultation and confidence building with the populace.

Ssebaggala writes for The Black Star News from Kampala.

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