Peace treaty between Uganda and guerilla army could end 21 years of conflict
September 1, 2006
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The Ugandan government and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebel group have agreed to a ceasefire and will engage in month-long peace talks that could end 21 years of conflict.
Peace talks are to be held in southern Sudan and northern Uganda as LRA guerillas emerge from hiding in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The leader of the LRA, Joseph Kony, and other top LRA members are expected to arrive last during the three-week deadline given to reach Juba, the Sudanese sight for the negotiations.
The Ugandan government has granted members of the LRA amnesty in Uganda as a term of the non-aggression treaty.
While the Ugandan government is ready to offer amnesty, outside interests would rather see justice. The International Criminal Court wants to try Kony and four other members of the LRA for war crimes.
“I have a bit of mixed feelings about the ICC,” said Vital Akimana, a junior from Rwanda, another African country that has faced the atrocities of genocide. “There was a point in my life where I wanted justice, but the more I learned about treaties and policies … having courts like that only perpetuated the situation.”
The ICC case could collapse, however, as pressure to drop the charges comes strongest from the Ugandan people.
The Ugandan method of conflict resolution is called “mat oput,” translated as “drinking the bitter root.” It makes those guilty of a crime acknowledge their guilt, show remorse, and ask the community for forgiveness. A similar method of conflict resolution was used in Rwanda.
“I like the idea of people using their own cultural way of reconciliation,” said Shelini Harris, assistant professor of peace and conflict studies.
“The judicial system (in Western culture) is adversarial; but in other cultures, justice is reconciliation — it’s for what’s in the best interest for all of (them),” Harris said. “Their expectation of justice is very different.”
France Ntloedibe, visiting assistant professor of history, who has dealt in similar circumstances with The Truth and Reconciliation Committee in South Africa, is realistic but supportive of mat oput. “I don’t know if it’s fair for everybody; sorry is not enough for some people,” Ntloedibe said. “It heals, but it leaves so many questions unanswered. I think it will be effective in this situation.”
As the negotiations commence, Ugandan lawmakers are working fast to incorporate the main points of mat oput into Uganda’s national law. Countries like New Zealand and Rwanda are also turning their tribal systems into state law.
“I think when it’s done by the right people, the right elders, people who understand the system, it can work,” Akimana said. “In Rwanda, it didn’t get enough government support … people misused it and took advantage of it.”
The LRA was formed in 1987 as a guerilla group leading a rebellion against the Ugandan government in what has been one of Africa’s longest conflicts. In January 1987, Joseph Kony announced himself leader, as a “spiritual medium,” with his own interpretation of Biblical millenarianism.
The LRA has never made a clear statement of its political aims. They are part of an ethnic group, the Acholi, which has little power in the current Ugandan government. They claim they are liberators of the Ugandan people, though these are the exact people whom the LRA has targeted in attacks.
Close to 1.5 million northern Ugandans, many of whom are children, were displaced, tortured, executed, or abducted to serve as soldiers by the LRA.
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that he welcomed the ceasefire as a “step in the right direction,” and that the U.N. is ready to assist in the resolution and will continue to provide resources so that those suffering from violence can receive assistance.