Monitors probe alleged Ugandan attack on Lord’s Resistance Army rebels

Oct 17 (JUBA, Sudan) — An independent monitoring team set off on Tuesday to investigate Ugandan rebel claims they were attacked by Ugandan troops in southern Sudan, breaking a fragile truce aimed at ending one of Africa’s longest conflicts.

Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) guerrillas accused the military on Monday of ambushing their fighters at Birinyang, southeast of southern Sudan’s capital Juba, risking a restart of a 20-year war that killed tens of thousands and uprooted 1.7 million more.

A Ugandan military spokesman denied the charge.

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“We are leaving right now for Birinyang … on a fact-finding mission following the alleged clashes,” monitoring chief Major-General Wilson Deng Kuoirot said in Juba, the site of ongoing peace talks.

He did not give any more details, but his team is expected to report to mediators by early next week.

Under a landmark truce signed in August the rebels were supposed to gather at two places in south Sudan — Owiny-Ki-Bul, on the Ugandan border and Ri-Kwangba, on the Congolese border, near the LRA leadership’s jungle hideout.

Although around 800 rebels were reported to be at Owiny-Ki-Bul, many fled, accusing the army of surrounding them.

The military in turn accused the LRA of failing to assemble, although the monitors found both sides guilty of violations.

On Monday, the LRA said Ugandan troops deployed at Birinyang — once LRA leader Joseph Kony’s headquarters until it was smashed by Uganda’s military in July 2004 — had attacked a rebel group walking back to Owiny-Ki-Bul, badly injuring two.

“For how long shall we sit and talk while our soldiers are under attack?” asked Godrey Ayoo, an LRA spokesman in Juba.

Elsewhere, aides to Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni would not confirm or deny a local report that Museveni was planning to fly to Juba this weekend to join the talks in person.

“We cannot disclose the plans of the president. I would not be surprised if he goes. He likes to involve himself whenever things are not moving,” a spokesman told Reuters in Kampala.

During their insurgency the LRA became notorious for their brutal attacks on civilians: killing villagers, slicing body parts off survivors and kidnapping thousands of children to serve the cult-like group as fighters, porters and sex slaves.

Analysts say a breakdown of trust between the two sides has left the southern Sudan-mediated talks in jeopardy.

The army and some observers fear the LRA only signed the truce to win time to regroup, while the LRA fears the government will turn them over to the International Criminal Court, which has indicted five of their top commanders for war crimes.

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