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. Uganda rebels to sign historic peace deal

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.
by Staff Writers
Ri-Kwangba, Sudan (AFP) April 10, 2008
Uganda's top rebel leader Joseph Kony was to sign an historic peace deal on Thursday to end one of Africa's longest conflicts which has left tens of thousands dead.

The Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) chief was due in the southern Sudan jungle town of Ri-Kwangba to initial an agreement which is to be signed by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on Sunday.

"They (the LRA) told me he would be there," Southern Sudan vice president and chief mediator Riek Machar told AFP Wednesday, amid lingering speculation over the elusive rebel's presence.

Kony -- whose group is notorious for raping and mutilating civilians, enlisting child soldiers and massacring thousands -- has been in hiding to avoid a warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Top LRA commanders have met on the other side of the Ri-Kwangba area's border with the Democratic Republic of Congo but Kony was reportedly spotted recently in the neighbouring Central African Republic.

Kony's people were suspected of gang-raping women, taking dozens hostage and attacking villages, according to a draft UN report.

Ugandan rebels last week asked mediators to delay the signing of the peace agreement citing the inadequate nature of facilities such as toilets in their camp in Ri-Kwangba.

Machar dismissed these allegations as "rubbish", insisting that southern Sudan was providing food and facilities.

Twenty years of fighting have left tens of thousands dead and displaced two million people, mainly in northern Uganda. Several thousands have been killed in southern Sudan where the LRA have camps.

Church and rights groups said the expected signing had raised hope of lasting stability in the region.

"War must stop forever. That is my expectation and that is the expectation of the people of northern Uganda and even the government," said Archbishop John Odama of Gulu diocese.

While welcoming the possible deal, Amnesty International expressed reservations on the its failure to address impunity.

"But we have serious concerns about the solutions that are being put forward... because they're not a comprehensive plan," said Jonathan O'Donohue, legal adviser for AI's International Justice Project.

A ceasefire was struck in August 2006, paving the way for peace talks in South Sudan capital Juba that have dragged on for more than a year and a half.

A permanent ceasefire signed in February is expected to take effect 24 hours after the signing of the final accord.

The talks were delayed by the LRA's insistence that ICC warrants against Kony and three of his top lieutenants be lifted before an agreement is signed. However, even with an agreement, Kony is not expected to return to Kampala.

While the Ugandan government has not requested such a move from The Hague-based tribunal, it has been vocal in advocating home-grown solutions to bring former rebels to justice.

Observers argue the government has a vested interest in scuppering too much disclosure at an international tribunal, as it may end up facing war crimes for forcibly displacing hundreds of thousands and killing civilians.

The rebels accuse the Ugandan People's Defence Force of carrying out abuses, but the army says it routinely punishes soldiers convicted of war crimes.

The conflict has raged since 1988, when Kony, a semi-illiterate former altar boy, took charge of a two-year-old regional rebellion among northern Uganda's ethnic Acholi minority.

The original rebellion was started in 1986 by Holy Spirit Movement commander Alice Lakwena, who told her fighters she could rely on magic and bulletproof potions to turn enemy bullets into stones.

Since the signing of the truce agreement almost two years ago, the war-scarred east African nation has engaged in aggressive reform to attract investors and revamp its image.

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Joseph Kony: Uganda's mysterious rebel leader
Kampala (AFP) April 10, 2008
Joseph Kony, Uganda's elusive rebel leader who is expected to sign a final peace deal Friday, is a former altar boy who turned into one of Africa's most brutal commanders.

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