By Henry Mukasa and Alfred Wasike
THE Government is ready to declare a ceasefire with the LRA but it must be bilateral and only as long as the insurgents agree to discuss terms, conditions and sign a comprehensive peace agreement to end terror in northern Uganda and southern Sudan.
This was part of the Uganda government position at the on-going peace talks in the southern Sudan capital of Juba yesterday.
â€œThe Uganda delegation has presented its position on item number five of the agenda on disarmament, demobilisation and re-integration,â€ the Uganda Media Centre director, Robert Kabushenga, said yesterday.
â€œThe government is ready to sign a comprehensive agreement. The ball is in the hands of the mediator (Dr. Riek Machar) and the LRA. We have done our bit,â€ Kabushenga said, adding, â€œbut Ndugu (Doctor Ruhakana Rugunda, the head of the government delegation) is returning home for a private func
tion and for a brief period, international relations minister Henry Okello Oryem will lead the team in the on-going talks.â€
By Thursday, the talks had stalled after the LRA delegation refused to return to the negotiation table.
The LRA walked out on Machar and Rugundaâ€™s team on Wednesday, demanding a reciprocation of their unilateral declaration of a cessation of hostilities.
However, the government team maintained its stance that it would not verbally and unilaterally declare a ceasefire, insisting that everything had to be discussed and signed.
Oryem addressed journalists and urged the LRA delegation, â€œespecially those people who come from London to be more washed in the way they conducted themselves.â€
He described the stand-off as â€œa storm in a tea cupâ€ and said the government team would wait for the LRA to return to the talks because it has 20 million Ugandans to account to.
â€œWe hope to resume. We donâ€™t think all is lost. These peace talks are important and a few people should not derail them,â€ he said.
The LRA team stayed put at their residence at Juba Bridge camp, reading print-outs of Kampalaâ€™s daily newspapers.
Their chairman, Martin Ojulu, said they would not budge even an inch.
â€œWe are not going there (Juba Raha, the venue for the talks). we have not got any communication from the chief mediator. We want the Government to declare a cessation of hostilities.
â€œThe mediator gave us a condition to declare cessation of hostilities before we resume round 2 of the peace talks. We did but the Government didnâ€™t. What business do we have with them?â€Ojulu asked.
The LRA team spokesman, Obonyo Olweny, claimed the â€œGovernment is deliberately confusing cessation of hostilities and ceasefire. They seem not to care about the suffering people.â€
Oryem said after the government team presented its position paper for a cessation of hostilities and ceasefire, it expected the LRA to do the same.
â€œWe expected a similar response from the LRA but we were stunned when they rebuked our stand, that they were not ready to proceed and walked out,â€ Oryem said.
â€œWe were disturbed by their action. We thought it was childish. Peace talks are serious, need tolerance and patience,â€ he added.
Oryem, who was flanked by delegation spokesman Capt. Paddy Ankunda, said a cessation of hostilities had been abused before by the LRA. He said having been ambushed by the rebel delegation to show any agreement violated in the past, his delegation was now â€œmoving more cautiously.â€
He said although the LRA declared cessation of hostilities, it was raiding IDP camps in Amuru, Pader and Gulu for food and to abduct people, the reason the UPDF killed eight of their fighters recently.
Oryem said after a monitoring team and assembly areas for the rebels are agreed upon, a safe passage would be created for the LRA and those outside it would be considered hostile.
He said several donors, including USA, had agreed to offer medicine and secure the assembly areas.
He said the monitoring team would have two people each from UPDF, SPLA and one each from the AU, UN and GMC.