Aid agencies welcome truce in northern Uganda

 Aid agencies have welcomed the Ugandan government and the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) first-ever truce accord which came into force yesterday. A cessation of hostilities was agreed on Saturday between the Government and rebel Lord's Resistance Army following peace talks assisted by the Catholic peace movement Pax Christi. "This is the first major breakthrough in the peace talks that started on 14 July in Juba, the capital of South Sudan," a Pax Christi statement said. The Ugandan Government had resisted a cessation of hostilities for fear that the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) might use it to regroup. Direct talks in Kampala last week between the President of Southern Sudan Salva Kiir and President Museveni helped bring about the breakthrough for one of Africa's longest-running conflicts. "The LRA has agreed to surface and to assemble its troops in Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) protected assembly areas inside South Sudan within 14 days. The Ugandan Army will provide safe passage to LRA groups and individuals moving towards the assembly points." "There remain, however, tough issues to deal with: an agreement on the procedures of accountability in ways that will be approved by the International Criminal Court while respecting the Amnesty to the LRA leaders accorded by President Museveni," he said. Pax Christi, which has advocated a negotiated solution since 1998, was requested in the fall of 2005 by Church leaders in Northern Uganda and Southern Sudan to explore possibilities for a political solution to the civil war between LRA and the Government of Uganda. The present peace talks started in Juba on 14 July. Pax Christi heads the resource group that provides advice to the chief mediator of the peace process. CAFOD Sudan Officer Rob Rees: "If the deal takes hold, it will be a major breakthrough in bringing peace to the area, and also allow for the opportunity for CAFOD to push forward with its work in peacebuilding and reconciliation." In recent years, the conflict has spread into southern Sudan and has threatened the peace agreement signed in 2005 which brought the Sudan civil war to an end. This northern Ugandan truce accord now offers the chance of much greater stability and greatly improved prospects for development across a wide region of East Africa. Northern Uganda has witnessed the killing and torture of thousands of people, the abduction of more than 22,000 children to serve as soldiers, and widespread sexual exploitation of women and girls. Rob Rees said: "The situation in northern Uganda remains a forgotten tragedy. CAFOD has been working with its Caritas partner at the parish and grass roots level, assisting people who have been forced from their homes and living in the most abject conditions. "This fragile halt in the violence is a first step in creating security for the thousands of people who want to return home and get back to their normal lives." Source: CAFOD/Pax Christi

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