Ugandan peace deal looms as rebels, rulers sign cease-fire

(CNN) — The Ugandan government has signed a cease-fire with a rebel group to end a 22-year war that has killed thousands of people and displaced more than 1 million.

The deal, which was signed Saturday, came one day after members of the Lord’s Resistance Army walked out of the talks. The rebel group was at odds with Ugandan officials over demands for government positions.

Counseling camps for young victims of the LRA.

The cease-fire will go into effect once the two sides sign a comprehensive peace deal. Both sides expect the deal to be completed by the end of the week.

The Associated Press reported that government negotiators expect a peace deal by Friday, and the cease-fire will take effect within 24 hours.

“Today this is a landmark toward peace in our country,” said rebel negotiator David Matsanga. “Our people have yearned for that peace for the past 22 years.”

The two sides have been negotiating for more than a year to end the rebellion that began in 1986 when President Yoweri Museveni came to power.

The government and the rebels agreed to a cessation of hostilities in August 2006. Though there have been outbursts of fighting, the United Nations struck an optimistic tone last month regarding the potential peace deal.

“Peace talks have raised expectations that up to 500,000 of the 1.3 million IDPs [internally displaced people] created by 20 years of war could go home in 2008.” according to a U.N. news release.

Last week, the two sides reached agreements on how to prosecute alleged war crimes and on how the government will rehabilitate war-ravaged areas, AP reported. The latter initiative includes ensuring people in the hardest-hit regions will have opportunities to fill government posts, according to AP.

Both sides still need to decide how to demobilize the rebels and integrate them into the the Ugandan army, negotiators told CNN.

The Lord’s Resistance Army — led by Joseph Kony, who claims spiritual powers — sought to overthrow the Ugandan government, demanding the constitution be replaced with a version of the Ten Commandments.

The rebel group, which the U.S. State Department describes as “vicious and cult-like,” has been known for its unpredictable behavior.

Local villagers and international human rights groups have accused the rebels of committing widespread abuses, including recruiting children as soldiers and mutilating their victims.

In October 2005, the International Criminal Court unsealed arrest warrants for five Lord’s Resistance Army commanders, including Kony, who is alleged to have “ordered LRA forces to begin a campaign of attacks against civilians in Uganda” in 2002, according to the court.

The 33 counts against Kony included 21 counts of war crimes. Charges also included sexual enslavement, rape, inducing rape, directing attacks against civilians and forced enlisting of children to fight, according to a news release from the court.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Monday February 25, 2008.
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