Tue, Jan 04, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Uganda wants no talks with rebels inside the country

AFP , KAMPALA

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on Sunday ruled out future peace talks with the northern rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) inside the country, his spokesman said, rejecting pleas to extend a ceasefire and reopen negotiations.

"The president said that any negotiations with the rebels will only take place outside the country and inside the country the military operations will continue," Onopito Ekomoloit said after Museveni met religious and local leaders in the northern town of Gulu.

Museveni over the weekend ordered the army to resume attacks against the insurgents, after last-minute hitches scuppered a ceasefire agreement on Friday, which could have paved the way for formal peace talks.

Museveni also spurned pleas by the religious leaders, who have tried broker peace deals in the past, to extend the government's unilateral ceasefire and give talks a chance to put an end to 18 years of insurgency, Ekomoloit said.

The government's unilateral ceasefire, which was announced on Nov. 14 to allow LRA rebels to meet and discuss entering peace talks, expired last Friday.

The two sides held their very first face-to-face talks only last Wednesday to discuss the first mutually-agreed ceasefire in a war which has claimed tens of thousands of lives and displaced 1.6 million people, but failed to reach an agreement as expected on Friday.

Defense Minister Amama Mbabazi explained the government's position: "These people have not been interested and failed to talk. They failed to take the olive branch extended to them by the government. We shall not extend the ceasefire because they are not at all interested in this business."

Army spokesman Major Shaban Bantariza urged the rebels to surrender through chief mediator Betty Bigombe.

"We shall give safe passages to those rebels who wish to give up fighting and surrender to us if they could pass on that message to Betty Bigombe who will inform us accordingly," Bantariza said.

The LRA, which rose up against the government in 1988 to set up a regime based on the Bible's Ten Commandments, is notorious for its brutality against the civilian population, in particular the practice of abducting children: Boys to serve as recruits and girls as sexual slaves to rebel commanders.

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