February 28, 2007 / 9:43 AM / 12 years ago

Uganda's LRA says won't renew expiring truce

By Tim Cocks

KAMPALA, Feb 28 (Reuters) - Lord’s Resistance Army rebels will not renew a landmark truce with the Ugandan government set to expire on Wednesday, a top LRA official said, raising fears of a new chapter in the brutal 20-year war in northern Uganda.

The LRA pulled out of peace talks with the government in south Sudan’s capital Juba last month, citing security fears after Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir threatened to "get rid of the LRA from Sudan".

They have refused to resume talks unless another venue outside Sudan is found, a request Kampala rejects as a time-wasting tactic.

"We are not going to renew anything," LRA deputy commander Vincent Otti told Reuters by satellite telephone from his forest hideout in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The ceasefire, signed in August and renewed last December, raised hopes of an end to a conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people and uprooted 1.7 million in northern Uganda.

It will expire at midnight on Wednesday.

"(The truce) is just a playing tactic of the government while they renew military operations against us. Why renew an agreement they are not respecting?" Otti said.

Both sides accuse each other of violations. The government says the LRA failed to gather at two agreed assembly points inside south Sudan; the rebels say the Ugandan army used the meeting points to besiege them and attack their fighters.

Otti said the LRA had no plans to resume hostilities, but would hit back in self-defence. He added that the LRA would happily sign an extension of the truce in another venue.

Addressing journalists late on Tuesday, President Yoweri Museveni warned military operations against the LRA were still possible.

"Peace in Uganda will be maintained with or without peace talks," he said. "Talks were mainly for the benefit of the terrorists. If they don’t give in, that will be their problem."

Analysts say Museveni has had little faith in the peace process, but sees that it might be the only way out of a costly war that has tarnished Uganda’s international image.

"Museveni is a man who believes in force, not negotiated settlement," Paul Omach, a political scientist at Kampala’s Makerere University, told Reuters. "But he’s also pragmatic. It was internal political pressure that made him accept talks."

Aid agencies nevertheless fear the resumption of one of Africa’s longest wars and renewed humanitarian catastrophe.

The LRA are notorious for cruel attacks on civilians: bludgeoning people to death, mutilating victims and abducting thousands of children to use as fighters and sex-slaves.

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