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Diplomats prepare for more Ugandan peace talks

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April 17, 2008 (JUBA) — Ugandan rebel leader Joseph Kony stood up a group of international negotiators who had spent $10 million and flown to his jungle hideout last week to sign a peace deal.

Officials said Thursday negotiators would try to restart talks April 26. They plan to travel yet again to the remote spot on the Congo-Sudan border, hoping that Kony, the leader of the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army, will put in an appearance.

"A great deal has been invested in this process," explained David Gressly, a senior U.N. official in southern Sudan, where the rebel group had many bases. "In that sense of course this remains a disappointment. It hasn’t been concluded but it’s not over at this point."

He was among the dozens of diplomats and negotiators who expected Kony to sign a deal last Thursday, ending 22 years of conflict. Diplomats camped in the mosquito-infested bush for three days.

Officials gave conflicting reasons for the no-show. The chief mediator and vice president of southern Sudan said Kony sought clarification on clauses dealing with justice for the rebels - five of whom have been indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court.

But David Matsanga, who until that Thursday had been the rebel group’s chief negotiator, said he hadn’t spoken to Kony in four days and didn’t know if he was even near Ri-Kwangba, the venue planned for the ceremony.

"This delay and firing of Matsanga clearly bodes poorly for the peace process," said Peter Quaranto of the Washington-based advocacy group Resolve Uganda. "We’re still hopeful that continued dialogue and creative inducements may yet get Kony to sign the agreement."

But advocacy workers warned that the Lord’s Resistance Army negotiators - largely composed of members of the Ugandan Diaspora rather than bush fighters - may have acted without Kony’s approval in signing a string of agreements in recent months, including one dealing with accountability for war crimes.

At the height of the conflict between the Lord’s Resistance Army and the Uganda government - whose forces are also accused of gross human rights violations - almost two million people across northern Uganda fled their homes.

A cease-fire since the beginning of peace talks allowed many to return, but doubts remain as to whether the conflict has finally ended.

As part of the final deal, the Uganda government has agreed to ask the International Criminal Court to withdraw the indictments. Under an agreement signed last month, those charged with serious crimes would be tried in a special division to be set up within Uganda’s High Court system. Those accused of lesser crimes would be judged according to northern Uganda’s traditional justice system, known as Mato Oput, which human rights workers say is insufficiently punitive.

Fearing arrest, Kony has remained in hiding since 2006. His representatives say his group won’t disarm until the warrants are lifted.

(AFP)

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