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Uganda - Sudan: Renewed truce raises optimism over future talks
Kampala - The renewed truce between the Ugandan government and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) has boosted hopes that upcoming talks between the two may finally end the conflict in northern Uganda, a senior official said on Monday.
"We have reached a state where the process will just move forward,"
- Ruhakana Rugunda, Uganda's interior minister
"We have reached a state where the process will just move forward," Ruhakana Rugunda, Uganda's interior minister and leader of the government negotiation team, told reporters after returning from Sudan. "Many concessions were made to facilitate confidence building."
At Saturday's meeting between Rugunda's delegation and the LRA leaders in Ri-Kwangba on the Sudan-Democratic Republic of Congo border, the ceasefire - which expired in February - was renewed until the end of June.
The two parties also agreed to restart their on-and-off peace talks from 26 April in the southern Sudanese capital of Juba.
Outlining the new developments which he claimed would facilitate "smooth negotiations", Rugunda said the government and the rebels had recommitted themselves to peacefully resolve the 21-year-old conflict that has killed thousands and displaced over a million people.
"We also agreed to additional deployment of a bigger team that will monitor the agreement," Rugunda said, adding that two groups of rebel fighters in southern Sudan will converge in Ri-Kwangba in the next six weeks.
"The LRA has been asking for this ... saying that it will be easy to command and control if these people assemble in one area," the minister explained. "Uganda has accepted and will respect this movement."
The Ugandan government had initially opposed this request by the rebels, but said it yielded after the southern Sudan government agreed to the request.
"The LRA forces east of the [River] Nile within southern Sudan and those forces still in Uganda, shall complete assembly in Ri-Kwangba within six weeks of the signature of this addendum (14 April 2007)," the new agreement reads in part.
The agreement will only lapse upon the signing of a formal ceasefire deal between the parties.
The meeting was chaired by the United Nations Secretary-General's special envoy in the region, former Mozambican president, Joaquim Chissano. Both sides, Rugunda added, had agreed that the talks will keep the southern Sudanese vice president, Riek Machar, as mediator.
The talks in Juba stalled in December after the rebels announced that they were walking out because they feared for their lives. They demanded a new venue and new mediators, accusing the current mediators - the southern Sudanese government - of bias.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) has indicted the LRA leader Joseph Kony, his deputy Vincent Otti and three other commanders for crimes against humanity - specifically for murder, rape, mutilations and mass abductions.
Article has been adapted from a news release issued by IRIN.