Ugandan government, rebels agree to ceasefire

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord's Resistance Army.
Image: joram jojo.
(Image missing from Commons: image; log)

On Saturday, the Ugandan government signed a permanent ceasefire with the Lord's Resistance Army, a self-proclaimed Christian guerilla army which has been rebelling against the government in one of Africa's longest running conflicts.

The ceasefire will not take effect until the day after both sides sign a comprehensive peace deal, which is expected to be completed later this week. Rebels and government officials hailed the event as a step towards the end of the two-decade long war.

"Today this is a landmark toward peace in our country," said David Matsanga, one of the rebels involved in the negotiations. "Our people have yearned for that peace for the past 22 years." Chris Magezi, spokesman for the government delegation, called the agreement "another major breakthrough".

The signing was presided over by Riek Machar, vice president of southern Sudan. It was the latest development in the ongoing peace talks being held in Juba since July 2006. In August 2006, the two sides agreed to a cessation of hostilities.

According to the terms of the deal, the Lord's Resistance Army will be prohibited from recruiting or rearming soldiers, and they will not be able to travel beyond a temporary assembly area in southern Sudan. The assembly area will be guarded by Sudanese troops.

The only item remaining on the agenda for negotiators is the demobilization of the rebels and their integration into the Ugandan army, an issue which is expected to be dealt with quickly. However, United Nations envoy Joaquim Chissano warned, "Let us not be obfuscated by this joy. We must see clearly a way to complete peace."

The Lord's Resistance Army is a group which aims to establish a theocratic government in Uganda. In 1986, they revolted against the government and began a conflict which has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced over 2 million. The group is also accused of human rights violations, including mutilating their victims and recruiting children as soldiers.