By Joshua Kato
FOR the first time, the leader of the Lordâ€™s Resistance Army (LRA), Joseph Kony, called a radio station and was interviewed by a journalist. This was during a talk show hosted on Mega FM in Gulu.
A few days later, Kony called Nobert Mao, the Gulu municipality Member of parliament with proposals about ending the war in northern Uganda.
In both instances, Kony was spreading the gospel of peace. But is his peace offer genuine? Should the government take it seriously?
Mao says: â€œThe fact that he called and said he wants peace talks means a lot. This is an opportunity that should be grabbed gleefully by the government peace team.â€
And it looks like some Government officials have grabbed the chance. Already, several members of parliament have registered to visit and talk to Kony.
â€œSince he says that we are free to visit him, this opportunity is rare and this is why it should be grabbed,â€ Mao says.
Betty Aketch, the Minister of State for Education lauds Konyâ€™s gesture: â€œWe members of the national peace team are happy and wish to thank the LRA leader for telling Ugandans that he wants peace,â€ she says.
But Aketch says that this is just one step in the right direction. The second step should be for Kony to identify his peace team. â€œWe request him to identify his team and their contacts so that we can contact them,â€ she says.
â€œI am fighting in the bush because I want peace,â€ Kony says. Kony adds that the Governm-ent is the enemy of peace, pinpointing Museveni in particular.
However, during the Capital Gang talk show on Capital Radio on Saturday January 4, Museveni said that he still believes in peace talks with Kony, but only if Kony does as he asks. This includes going to an area away from the population, where they can be identified and given food by World Food Programme.
In his call in on Mega FM, Kony refused the idea of going to Owiny-Kibul or Palatoka in southern Sudan. He says that he is a Ugandan and should stay in Uganda. The President offered some concessions: â€œIf they donâ€™t want to go to Owiny Kibul or Palatoka, they can tell me a place through their intermediaries,â€ says the President.
If this is done, he will declare a ceasefire and give them a safe passage to those places.
Museveni also said that they should stop abducting children and killing innocent civilians. Short of this, he vows to continue pursuing them.
Latigo Ogenga, the Member of parliament for Ogago in Pader district, did not agree to Museveniâ€™s reaction to Konyâ€™s peace offer.
â€œThe President seems to have one policy, which is waging war,â€ says Latigo.
He points out that when Kony talks, there are opportunities to grab and take, but when the President simply asks him to do as he tells him, he is shutting the door.
Kony says the peace process should involve the Acholi community. The defence state minister, Ruth Nankabirwa says that this is already happening. â€œBy asking the religious leaders and elders to talk with Kony, government is clearly involving the community,â€ she says. Nankabirwa also says that Kony should first stop abductions and killing innocent civilians. â€œIt is certainly not easy to talk peace with somebody who is abducting and killing people at the same time,â€ she says.
Kony asked for the involvement of foreigners in the talks. â€œThis issue should be handled the same way talks are handled internationally,â€ he says. In West-Nile, the peace talks between the UNRF 2 and the government were facilitated by the donor community, especially the Netherlands, Irish and Danish governments.
â€œWe have not stopped the involvement of foreigners in the peace talks. Everyone is free to make suggestions on how peace can be achieved in the north. There is no exception even if he or she is a foreigner,â€ says Nankabirwa.
Currently, a group of MPs are in London to promote the quest for a peaceful resolution of the 16-year-old war in the north. The group includes: Samuel Odonga Otto (Aruu), Ronald Reagan Okumu (Aswa), Elijhah Okupa (Kasilo), Okulo Epak (Oyam South) and Michael Ochwa (Kilak).
The trip was organised by The Campaign for Political and Human Rights in Uganda, an NGO-based in the UK.
â€œWe are going to hold discussions with the British Governmentâ€™s foreign and common wealth office to try and bring peace in the north,â€ Reagan Okumu said before they left.
Kony says his team is ready, but fails to name it, even when pressed by the panelists on the show. The Minister for the Presidency, Gilbert Bukenya, says that Kony should name his negotiating team first, but not demand that he can only talk to the President.
â€œIf talks with Kony progress well and there is need for the President to meet Kony, this can be arranged,â€ Bukenya said.
Indeed, the President attended the signing ceremony of the UNRF peace agreement in Yumbe.
Kony says people who love peace can even follow his commanders and give them the message.
However, one of his commanders, Vincent Otti, called in earlier and threatened to kill any envoy who might cross his way. Kony does not want to be compared to the UNRF. He said that UNRF 2 was simply a contingent of refugees in Sudan. However, the RDC Yumbe, Ahmed Doka, who worked hard for the peace talks in West-Nile, says UNRF were not simply a group of cowards. â€œMy request to Kony is to take the example of the UNRF. Government is willing to talk peace,â€ he says.
He refuses to accept that the LRA kills and abducts children and other people. He blames the government for these atrocities. However, the spokesman for the army in the north, says that this is not an issue for debate.
â€œThe evidence that Kony is killing people is undisputed,â€ he says.
Kony says he believes that the barrel of the gun can solve the problem, and calls on his tribesmen to join him in the struggle. Museveni verified this issue on the Capital Gang.
â€œI have a recording of his voice calling on his commanders to kill as many civilians as possible,â€ says Museveni.
Army spokesman Major Shaban Bantariza says that Konyâ€™s calls are not out of the blue.
He says the calls have came at the height of a ferocious offensive, that has seriously weakened Konyâ€™s means of waging war against the UPDF.
In fact from November to January, the north has been relatively peaceful compared to what it was between June and October when LRA attacked civilians and UPDF targets on a nearly daily basis.
According to the UPDF, 112 rebels have been killed in the last three months and hundreds of abducted people rescued. More than 60 rifles have been captured and other guns including the deadly B-10 anti-tanks rocket launcher.
Lt. Colonel Walter Ochora, the Gulu district chairman and part of the government peace team says: â€œThe fact that Kony called in and hinted on talking peace is very good. I think the government should not take this offer very lightly.â€
Willy Okello, member of the Acholi community at Makerere University has got the same view, â€œ The truth is that every opportunity should be grabbed to talk peace with Kony.
Both the government and Kony should hide their pride. This is the only way peace will come to Acholi,â€ he said. Ends
Is Konyâ€™s Peace Offer Genuine?