By Milton Olupot in Ri-kwangba
and Henry Mukasa in Kampala
PEACE negotiators and dignitaries are assembled in Ri-Kwangba at the Sudan-Congo border awaiting the signing of the first phase of the peace agreement with the LRA today.
The second phase is expected on April 15 in Juba, where President Yoweri Museveni is expected to attend.
As anxiety grips the north ahead of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, observers are optimistic that rebel leader Joseph Kony will this time sign a peace deal to end the two-decade devastating war that ruined the region.
Over 200 guests yesterday boarded UN helicopters in the South Sudan capital, Juba, the venue for the talks since July 2006, to Ri-Kwangba assembly area to witness the historic moment.
The mood has been buoyed by reports that Kony is already at the venue.
Chief mediator Riek Machar, the chief government negotiator, Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda, and LRA team leader David Matsanga will fly out of Juba to Ri-kwangba today.
â€œThe LRA delegation has assured me that Kony is in Ri-Kwangba and he is ready to sign the peace deal,â€ Machar, who is also the Vice-President of South Sudan, said in Juba.
Kony had been scheduled to sign the peace agreement on April 3, but asked for an adjournment to today citing security and logistical problems.
â€œWe have done everything to make sure the two sides sign. Letâ€™s wait and see what happens,â€ Machar said.
Residents who have born the brunt of the brutal war, which saw many abducted and raped, are joined by the rest of the world for the long-awaited peace deal.
Kony is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Although he is ready to sign a peace agreement, his aides said he will only come out of the bush if the court drops the charges against him.
The ICC insists, however, that it is not a party to the peace talks and its indictments and arrest warrants for Kony and his top commanders stand.
Recently, President Yoweri Museveni said in London that the Government could save Kony from prosecution at The Hague if he signed the peace deal.
This, Museveni explained, would leave Kony open for trial by the Ugandan High Court, which is creating a special division to try LRA fighters. Yesterday the mood was upbeat in the north.
â€œOptimism is the word. This time they are serious because everybody is getting annoyed,â€ Acholi premier Kenneth Oketta, said.
â€œWe are working for the signing of the final peace agreement,â€ Rugunda said yesterday.
When the final peace agreement is signed, Rugunda added, the parties will embark on the implementation phase. â€œWe want to implement the agreement in a secure environment and with our people returning to their villages to lead normal and productive lives.â€
Acholi paramount chief Rwot Onen Achana flew to Ri-Kwangba yesterday together with traditional leaders Emorimor of Teso Augustine Osban, Won Nyaci Yasam Odur of Lango, Emmanuel Kiiza of Bunyoro and elders and clergy from the greater north.
A flood of local and international journalists have assembled in Ri-Kwangba to document the signing ceremony.
â€œWe are set for the signing. The place is set up and LRA combatants will mount a guard of honour that will be inspected by the Government representative,â€ Matsanga said.