KAMPALA (Reuters) – Uganda’s Lord Resistance Army declared a ceasefire on Friday and called on the government to lay down its arms ahead of peace talks due to resume in south Sudan next week.
A spokesman contacted by satellite telephone at the rebels’ camp in Democratic Republic of Congo said the cessation of hostilities was issued by the rebels’ deputy commander Vincent Otti, on behalf of LRA leader Joseph Kony.
“I order all of our field commanders to with immediate effect cease all forms of hostilities against UPDF (Ugandan army) positions and others,” Otti said in the statement.
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“We hope that the government reciprocate this gesture of goodwill so that both parties may finally sign a bilateral agreement to provide a peaceful atmosphere while the peace talks continue.”
Otti, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), has rejected requests by mediators to attend the negotiations in the southern capital Juba, saying he feared arrest. On Friday, he said the LRA leadership had full confidence in an existing delegation of rebel representatives.
“In future, we may add to or reinforce the delegation, if and when necessary,” Otti said.
The LRA launched one of the world’s most brutal insurrections from north Uganda 20 years ago, later moving to south Sudan and lately hiding out in the jungles of east Congo.
Uganda’s government rejects signing a ceasefire as a preliminary step in peace talks, accusing the rebels of using truces to re-arm in the past. It has repeatedly said it will only agree a ceasefire as part of a comprehensive peace deal.
“We want to formally agree everything first, then a ceasefire can be signed,” said the head of Uganda’s delegation, Internal Affairs Minister Ruhakana Rugunda.
Earlier on Friday, he said that despite Otti’s absence his team would return to the discussions, which are due to resume on Monday. They were only waiting for an invite from the chief mediator, south Sudan’s Vice President Riek Machar, they said.
“Government is pushing for peace, we are not going to be distracted by non-central issues,” Rugunda said.
Machar had insisted that Otti attend the talks, which began on July 14. On Wednesday, Machar left LRA delegates stranded at a remote outpost on the Sudan-Congo border when they failed to produce Otti after visiting him in his camp.
Machar has said he will send transport to collect the rebel delegation on Saturday. Members of his team were not immediately available for comment.
On Thursday, Otti said the insistence he attend was a ”trap” and accused Machar of scheming to have him arrested and sent to The Hague if he appeared in Juba. He said he would only attend if the ICC dropped the charges against him.
The cult-like LRA is accused of killing civilians and mutilating its victims in a war against the Ugandan government that has uprooted nearly two million people and killed tens of thousands, as well as destabilizing southern Sudan.
Experts say the rebels have largely ceased attacks in south Sudan since early April after the regional government demanded it stop targeting civilians as a condition for talks.
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