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Kony wants peace talks without signing deal, Museveni agrees

By Melina Platas

Call it a broken record, a vicious circle, a merry-go-round  but whatever you call it, the peace process between the Lords Resistance Army and the government is dead in the water; or rather, in the jungle.

The most recent attempt to sign the Final Peace Agreement (FPA) on November 29 was not much different than past attempts, though it had fewer observers as most have begun to tire of LRA leader Joseph Kony’s games. Kony seemed more paranoid than times past, reportedly allowing his guards to conduct an embarrassing body search of the only folks in the Ugandan delegation to see him – a group of elders. When they returned, according to junior defense minister Ruth Nakabirwa who camped nearby, some could hardly talk about what happened.

 A shabbily attired Kony, who ditched his morning suit for an afternoon of red-eyed ranting, claimed, in addition to the usual excuses, that a UPDF commander sent him an SMS threatening him with death. The rebel leader also claimed he had been told that his supporters in the Diaspora were breaking away from him and starting another insurgency.

But is Kony really paranoid? Or is this all part of the game? Today Kony finds himself tucked away in the jungles of Congo – trading, looting, abducting, and generally running his own show having taken his former commander Vincent Otti out of the picture. He appears out of arms reach of the UPDF and is not on top of Congo’s to-do list either.  In other words, save for a fatal case of bush fever – he is safe.

Meanwhile, the government of Uganda and President Museveni in particular, has successfully made itself over in the process of trying to get Kony to sign a document that would require he turn himself in, together with his guns, wives and men.Â

Considered neglectful of northern Uganda in the past, the government is now seen as the passionate peacemaker trying its best to find a peaceful solution to the LRA problem. The world seems quick to forget that this is the same government that the allowed the war to continue for over 20 years, displacing two million to isolation camps where poor sanitary conditions killed more people than Kony ever hacked or shot dead. Prof. Apolo Nsibambi, Uganda’s Prime Minister and leader of government business in Parliament, had never even been to northern Uganda until about two months ago. Yet he is the man in charge of northern Uganda’s “recovery and development” program.

The ICC arrest warrants are the most cited excuse on both sides for the stalling of the peace process. In reality, they are somewhat convenient to both Kony and the government of Uganda. Kony has an excuse to remain buried in Congo, buy himself time, and relieve pressure by periodically claiming he will sign. For its part, the government is able to say they have done everything they can and held up their end of the deal.

Uganda is under no pressure since the rebels are not operating in the north of the country- so speeches of commitment to peace may as well do.

Indeed, according to the army, the LRA “is not a Ugandan problem”.

LRA is now a regional problem, says Capt. Chris Magezi, spokesman for the UPDF on Uganda’s negotiating team.

Thus, a stalemate has been reached in this strategic power play where both sides get what they want while millions wait for the rebellion to formally end, and the international justice system hopes Kony’s 20-year impunity ends with him finally answering for his crimes.

What can change before the next press conference announces Kony is “finally signing”?

One game-changing move would be if Kony were reckless enough to provoke a border incident between Congo and Uganda.  The UPDF says it would act should the rebels attack “our people.” The army has fortified its western border. Word has it that former army commander Gen. James Kazini (who has been on trial for creating ghosts on the army payroll) has been recalled.

A clash between the two groups inside Congo or at the Ugandan border would end the peace process and force Kony to quit his current garrison in Garamba national park. The last time he was under such pressure Kony appeared more agreeable to a non-violent settlement.

The Congolese government, which recently withdrew its armed forces from the Garamba area, is now tied up with rebel Gen. Laurent Nkunda in North Kivu, and is unlikely to turn much attention to their northeastern territory where Kony is hiding.  Perhaps if Kony allied with another rebel group hostile to the Kabila regime, the Congolese government could be tempted to take more forceful action.

The LRA also remains a potential threat to the government of Southern Sudan (GoSS), whose elections are due next year. If GoSS suspects that the authorities in Khartoum will once again back the LRA as a mercenary force to destabilise Southern Sudan, it could provoke the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) into getting serious about the LRA.

A cooperative SPLA would unlock the current deadlock over an effective regional partnership to militarily confront the rebels. Such a partnership, under the US sponsored Tripartite Plus, has agreed in principle to military action, but lacks political will.

The Tripartite Plus Commission, a regional security group, could be helpful in this regard, but unfortunately has not yet been expanded to include Southern Sudan and Central African Republic, both of which are key regional players on the Kony issue.

South Sudan’s Vice President Riek Machar (R) and Internal Affairs Minister Ruhakana Rugunda (L) arrive at the assembly point in Ri-Kwangba on the Sudan-Congo border April 10, 2008.  INDEPENDENT/REUTERS

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