Peace: Govt, LRA sign total ceasefire today

New Vision (Uganda)/December 31, 2004
By Alfred Wasike

The end of the bloody LRA insurgency that has devastated northern Uganda for 18 years appears to be in sight following a historic face-to-face meeting between the Government team and the rebel commanders.

A convoy of more than 10 vehicles tightly guarded by the UPDF churned dust as it snaked its way from Gulu to Paloda to take the Government delegation, headed by Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda, to the venue of the talks.

The team had to walk more than 2km through the rugged wilderness characterised by thorny bush to the concealed venue where Kony's team of rebel commanders waited.

About five minutes after Rugunda's team had sat into plastic garden chairs brought from Gulu, Kolo and his group, clad in combat fatigues, emerged from the thickets carrying their foldable wooden chairs.

They silently bowed to the Government side that bowed back, sat down and consulted among themselves until Bigombe called the meeting to order and read out the rules of the game that included throwing out journalists.

"We believe that this is the end of the war. We believe that all the issues will be resolved peacefully," Rugunda said after the meeting.

Flanked by chief mediator Betty Bigombe, minister for security Betty Akech and Acholi Paramount Chief Rwot Acana, Rugunda said, "We have agreed on cessation of hostilities and a ceasefire agreement will be signed in two days. Thereafter, there will be meetings to address specific issues that the LRA has to raise and those issues that the Government has with the LRA.

"I want to salute Madam Bigombe who has been mediating these meetings, the paramount chief of Acholi for total support, the Acholi people who have been the victims of this conflict and President Yoweri Museveni who made it possible to create this environment by declaring a ceasefire. We found our friends in the LRA very constructive and they came determined to ensure that they end the conflict."

Museveni is expected to witness the signing of the ceasefire agreement today.

The talks between Rugunda's team and that of the LRA led by its spokesperson, Brig. Sam Kolo, were held on a well-camouflaged rock in a remote bush in the Paloda hunting grounds, 56km east of Kitgum town. Kitgum is 100km east of Gulu town.

Both sides deployed 12 heavily armed men each to guard the participants.

Kony's team included brigadiers Samuel Okullu and Michael Acela, colonels Ronald Lubwa and Jinario Bongomin and lietenant colonels Santo Alit and Lupul.

Bongomin, the LRA chief catechist, opened the talks by raising his arms to the skies, closed his eyes and prayed to God to forgive the participants of their sins and bless them with the wisdom to end the suffering inflicted upon northern Uganda by the rebellion.

Bigombe said, "This is a historic moment for Uganda. We have made lots of progress in our talks with the LRA. A few months ago, this kind of meeting between the Government and the LRA was unthinkable. We have agreed that there will be immediate cessation of hostilities and within the next day or two, a mutual ceasefire agreement is to be signed between the Uganda Government and the LRA. We are going into a proper ceasefire to replace the unilateral one by the Government."

Kolo said, "For the first time in the history of this war, which took 18 years, I have heard directly and not indirectly from the officials of the Government of Uganda that they are ready to end this war through peaceful means.

"After the ceasefire agreement, a day will be communicated to both parties to come together again to start serious negotiations.

"If the spirit the Government has shown continues, the people will be free."

Speaking to journalists on behalf of the foreign delegation, the British military adviser, Col. Chris Wilton, said, "This is fantastic. We all wish for a fantastic 2005."

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