By James Gatdet Dak
June 16, 2008 (JUBA) – The Vice President of the Government of Southern Sudan and Chief Mediator of the Uganda Peace talks Dr. Riek Machar Teny said it is cheaper to persuade the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) leadership to sign the Final Peace Agreement than to go for military option against the rebels.
In a press conference held in his office on Monday, Machar told a group of national and international journalists that the Government of Southern Sudan will continue engagement with the LRA to persuade its leadership to sign and implement in full the Final Peace Agreement (FPA).
Machar distributed to journalists the final copy of the Final Peace Agreement ready to be signed by President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Joseph Kony of LRA together with a summary report he compiled as the Chief Mediator on the peace talks recommending the continuation of a peaceful path to end the 22 years of war in northern Uganda.
“We are caught up in this war… and lost over six thousand people before the Juba peace talks started on July 16, 2006,” he said, referring to the number of Southern Sudanese killed over the years by the LRA before the peace process began.
Machar said security situation improved in Northern Uganda and in Greater Equatoria in the last two years during the Juba peace talks.
When asked by journalists whether it was easier to destroy the LRA through military means, Machar replied that “it is cheaper… and easier to destroy the LRA through peaceful means than through military means.”
He however added that it is the duty of the Government of Southern Sudan to protect its citizens and pointed out that he had earlier requested for deployment of a full battalion of SPLA forces around the LRA assembly area of Ri-kwangba before the recent attacks took place.
Machar said he has sent to all representative partners of the Uganda peace talks his summary report and recommendations on the peace process.
He proposed in his 12-page report that some elements of the agreements signed in Juba should be implemented immediately, in good faith, pending signature of the Final Peace Agreement. He added that these agreements provide for important interventions, including social and economic provisions for the benefits of war-affected communities, “who deserve those benefits now.”
Machar argued that the formal negotiations of the peace process were over and what remained were just the signatures.
“I can therefore report, with full satisfaction, that by 25th March 2008, the Parties had achieved consensus on all the Agenda Items. They signed or initialed eight substantive agreements which, altogether, constitute the Final Peace Agreement. A short text which was to be ceremonially signed by General Joseph Kony and His Excellency President Yoweri Museveni was initialed,” the report stated.
The Juba peace process, which was seen as the best chance to end the 22-years of brutal conflict in the region witnessed a setback in April this year when the LRA leader, Joseph Kony failed to appear and sign the Final Peace Agreement on April 10, 2008 at Sudan-DR Congo border.
President Yoweri Museveni was also scheduled to sign the document on April 14, 2008 if Kony signed his part.
The LRA leader voiced concerns over how he was supposed to face justice for war crimes he committed, citing International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrants as an obstacle to peace.
The agreement on Accountability and Reconciliation reached in Juba last year between the two parties stipulate that the LRA leadership shall be tried in a Special Division of the High Court in Uganda and also by using Acholi traditional justice mechanisms.