AFP is reporting from Kampala that the Ugandan government has signed a permanent ceasefire agreement with the Lords Resistance Army (LRA). This is apparently not the total final peace agreement, though that now looks very close indeed. (“In the coming days,” according to AFP.)
The conflict between the government and the LRA, who are nearly all ethnic Acholi from the north of the country, has raged for 20 years– or much longer than that, depending how and what you count. It has been very intense for the past 12 years. Many, many years ago the government side cleared nearly all the Acholis off their lands and farms and herded them into “strategic hamlets / concentration camps” marked by extremely poor living conditions and many abuses by government soldiers. The LRA, for their part, for many years undertook repeated hit-and-run raids against both government forces and civilian populations, including the kidnapping of numerous children whom they impressed as child soldiers, sex slaves, or porters.
The challenge of resettling the war-scarred populations (Acholi and others) will be huge. The whole process of making and then building the required peace process is an enormous challenge; and it has been considerably complicated by the insistence of the International Criminal Court on prosecuting the leaders of the LRA.
You can read some of my comments about this complication– and those of other analysts far better informed than me– over at the Transitional Justice Forum blog, here.
The negotiators have been doing their work in Juba, South Sudan, where the regional South Sudan Government and its vice-president, Dr. Riek Machar, have done a lot to facilitate the peace talks. Also playing a great role has been the past president of Mozambique, Joaquim Chissano, who has been serving as the UN Secretary-General’s Special representative in the talks.
Both these leaders come from countries burdened by extreme poverty and very lengthy recent civil wars. Both have played important roles in helping to end those civil wars. So it is certainly fair to say that they know considerably more about how to make such a peace process work than either ICC bureaucrats sitting in their comfortable offices in long-peaceful European capitals or the (often very comfortably paid) westerners who work for US-based “rights” organizations.
On Tuesday, the negotiators in Juba reportedly reached an agreement on how the issue of dealing with the atrocities committed during the war will be dealt with. New Vision of Kampala reports this:
- “We have agreed that severe crimes committed by the LRA during the war will be tried under a special division of the High Court in Uganda,” said government spokesman Capt. Chris Magezi.
The agreement said the special court division would also facilitate the protection and participation of witnesses, victims, women and children.
“Less severe crimes can be dealt with using Mato Oput (traditional Acholi reconciliation mechanism) or even junior courts,” Magezi said.
The LRA said it was happy with the document. “This is a very good development,” said LRA team leader David Nyekorach Matsanga.
There still seemed to be some disagreement between the two sides as to whether the ICC indictments against LRA leader Joseph Kony would actually be dropped– though the ICC’s stance that its work is “complementary” to that of the national courts as opposed to having “primacy” of jurisdiction over them indicates that they would be.
Here is another account of how the war-crimes issues will be dealt with, from the UN’s IRIN system.
The next few days look as though they will be key to getting this entire peace accord completed. Let’s hope it works out. I am still haunted by the conversation I had with a group of residents of the Unyama IDP near Gulu, back in July 2006. In the course of that, one of the participants, a peasant farmer called Angelo, said:
- Why doesn’t the ICC speed up its process and be done by August so we can can all get back to our lands for the new planting season?
That was more than 18 months (= three planting seasons) ago.
Btw, big hat-tip to Jonathan Edelstein for pointing me to some of these articles.