By Josh Kron

Kigali, Rwanda: Despite new reassurances from UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni that the security situation in the north of the country will be tackled, “as soon as possible,” the peace process appears stalled.

As members of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) slowly move away from agreed-upon assembly points in South Sudan, the top shelf of the rebel group is threatening to quit further talks unless they are moved to more neutral locations such as Nairobi or South Africa. The request for a change in location came after a series of strong words from Vice President Salva Kiir of the Sudan, described by the LRA as incitation of violence against the group.

According to the negotiations, LRA members were to assemble under promised safety at two points in South Sudan; Ri-Kwangba and Owiny Ki-Bul, and up to 1500 reported militia had already done so before talks broke down just a week ago. Since then, LRA leader Joseph Kony, wanted for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court, has begun moving troops back into the Garamba Forest in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, though some have stayed behind in South Sudan, while others never left northern Uganda

 

Despite an invitation from the LRA’s second in command, Vincent Otti, to move the peace-talks to Nairobi, the Kenyan government’s assistant representative in Kigali denies any official communication with the Ugandan rebel group, and said that moving the talks to the capital would not be in the interest of the country. “We have a policy of not intervening in the external affairs of other countries unless it directly affects Kenya.” So far, this is not such a case. “Kenya has good relations with Uganda,” and they do not want to undermine their neighbor.
 

As for South Africa, a far less realistic mediator, its plate is already full with participation in talks concerning Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and, until recently, Cote d’Ivoire. With its recent ascension to the UN Security Council, though, correspondents in Johannesburg report a more aggressive, broad-based diplomatic presence on the world stage. If talks continue to fail, South African intervention could be a possibility. This could become reality, with more communication going between Kony, President Kiir and President Museveni, in all directions, in the form of name-calling and blame-placing, than diplomacy.

 

Simultaneously, two recent events within Uganda have complicated the conflict. There are reports of LRA members in the north of the country, who stayed behind while militia were to assemble at predetermined points in the Sudan, carrying out raids and raping at least two known women in a camp there. President Museveni has promised to swiftly and violently disarm the remaining militia, but the over 1.5 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), who are being urged to return home, are unsure.

 

While the gravity of the conflict seems to revolve around where, and when, talks will continue, the heart of the issue is the IDPs, who are being pressed to return despite security threats; just last week, raids by LRA still in Uganda were reported. On 30 January, six people, including a UN soldier, were killed in an ambush near Magwi, in South Sudan.

 

The biggest concern, is the ability to implement peace itself. Relief to displaced persons has been slow as aid and government agencies appear paralyzed at the implosion of the Juba talks. The government of Uganda has repeatedly asked internally displaced persons to return home, claiming that all is safe, despite persistent rumors otherwise. A representative of UNHCR in the north says that those from Acholiland—who make up roughly 75% of all IDPs in Uganda—are still afraid to return home. “Life in camps completely changes [people’s] psychology.” This would explain the results of a study released by the Butabika Psychiatric Hospital, showing over 400 suicides by internally displaced persons in the last two years. Most attribute the suicides to sever depression and anxiety brought on by current living conditions.

 

While President Museveni has urged IDPs to return home and promised to engage against LRA militia still in the region, Vice President Kiir has promised to keep South Sudan secure and threatened a mass attack on LRA members who were disturbing the peace in the region. On 29 January, it was reported by the Sudan Tribune that there were approximately 150 militia in Lofrika, near Torit. There have also been reports of raids by LRA members en-route to assembly points in Owingbul, in Central Equatoria. Yet Uganda’s Daily Monitor quoted an army official encouraging IDPs to return home “whether peace talks between the Ugandan government and the Lord’s Resistance Army succeeded or not.”  Why would this be? The reason behind the haste remains unclear.
 

Principle v. Peace

 

The question of ICC warrants for the five leaders of the LRA will be the key to the entire puzzle. Mr. Kony refuses to acknowledge his role in acts of crimes against humanity, including that of the recruitment of child soldiers, instead putting blame on the Museveni regime, but he is currently wanted on 33 counts alone. The LRA leadership has refused to move ahead with talks if the warrants stand.

 

It is a difficult situation, and one that revolves around a question familiar in the region; what do peacemakers seek first, justice or security? GLCSS believes security and peace go hand-in-hand, but cannot evolve simultaneously. One must come before the other. It is a question of what a non-African-dominated ICC believes is justice, and what is, at this point, most practically beneficial to the civilians living in the region. The sooner a negotiation is signed, the sooner the complex knot of alliances and rivalries in the West Nile Triangle can be untangled, thus relieving pressure and attention of governments and organizations to focus on other issues.

 

What is important to note is that the dropping of ICC charges does not equate impunity. Governments in the region, including Uganda itself, would rather see the matter resolved locally, rather than in a foreign country, in foreign language, with foreign judges. Western governments, led by the United Kingdom, say that a ‘vital principle’ will be lost if this is allowed. No one is arguing that Kony has done nothing wrong, and no one would argue that principles are unimportant, but they can be ambiguous and a luxury for those abroad and unaffected. The question GLCSS poses is what the primary goal is at this point; principles ensured for officials residing in London, The Hague, and New York, or the security of everyday life for people living in northern Uganda and South Sudan?

 

 

 

The Great Lakes Centre for Strategic Studies is a London-based think tank with offices in Kigali and Kampala. Josh Kron can be reached at josh@glcss.org

 

 

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