- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 26, 2005

KAMPALA, Uganda (Agence France-Presse) — The government and the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) are expected to agree this week on a date for a truce to end 18 years of civil war, President Yoweri Museveni’s chief mediator said Tuesday.

“By the end of the week, both sides will have agreed on a date when to sign a cease-fire agreement,” said Betty Bigombe, a former government minister who has been overseeing the limping peace process.

[Mrs. Bigombe is a senior fellow in the Jennings Randolph Fellowship Program until July. The institute’s Web site says she is a former Cabinet minister and served in Uganda’s parliament from 1986 to 1996, and was active in the negotiated peace agreement between the governments of Uganda and Sudan. Until recently, she was a consultant in the Social Protection and Human Development units at the World Bank. Before that, she served as a senior social scientist with the post-conflict unit at the World Bank.

[She was awarded a fellowship at the Harvard Institute for International Development in 1997. Mrs. Bigombe has co-authored several articles on policies for post-conflict peace building and the effect of war on women and children. She has a master’s degree in public administration from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.]

Mrs. Bigombe played a key role in efforts to secure a Dec. 31 truce. Since the collapse of that attempt and the start of a new government offensive against the rebels, she has continued talks with both sides and met rebel leaders in the northern Uganda bush where they are based.

The Ugandan military has claimed responsibility for the deaths of scores of insurgents since mid-January. On Monday, the army said it had captured a senior LRA commander in a weekend shootout at a rebel base.

Mrs. Bigombe noted that the commander, Brig. Michael Acellam-Odong, was a senior LRA negotiator and called the incident a setback to the peace process.

“It is unfortunate,” she said. “It is a setback, but it will not derail the peace process.”

A church source in the region agreed that the capture of Brig. Acellam-Odong was unfortunate, but was confident that the peace process would proceed slowly.

“We expect both sides to have agreed to move forward by the end of the week,” said the source, who insisted on anonymity.

The LRA has been fighting Mr. Museveni’s secular government since 1988, ostensibly to replace it with one guided by the Bible. The conflict has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and displaced more than 1.6 million people. The LRA is notorious for its brutality against civilians, especially its practice of abducting children — boys to serve as recruits, and girls as sex slaves to rebel commanders.

Captured with Brig. Acellam-Odong on Saturday in northern Uganda were two wives and two infants of LRA leader Joseph Kony.

“They were in a hide-out,” said Maj. Shaban Bantariza, an army spokesman in Kampala, the capital. “We surprised them, killed one rebel, recovered guns and a VHF radio,” as well as Brig. Acellam-Odong, the two women and their babies after the shootout at Paluda, in Uganda’s northern Kitgum district.

Maj. Bantariza said Brig. Acellam-Odong was wounded in a leg and a shoulder and had been admitted to a military hospital in Gulu, along with one of Mr. Kony’s wives, who also suffered bullet wounds.

Another army spokesman, Lt. Paddy Ankunda, who is based in the north of the country, described the captures as a “big new year harvest.”

Brig. Acellam-Odong told reporters in the Gulu hospital that his group had been attacked while they were on their way to a rebel high command meeting to discuss a cease-fire.

But Maj. Bantariza dismissed this as a “hopeless attempt by Acellam to build public sympathy” and accused the rebel commander of being the most intransigent of the LRA delegation that met a government team on Dec. 29 in the failed attempt to seal a truce.

“It is true he was part of the team that met Minister [Ruhakana] Rugunda and [Mrs.] Bigombe, but he was the most difficult of all and refused to cooperate even with his colleagues,” Maj. Bantariza said.

Late hitches aborted the signing of a truce on New Year’s Eve, and Mr. Museveni responded by ordering a new offensive against the LRA.

Since then, the army has claimed to have killed scores of rebels, including 11 that Lt. Ankunda said were killed on Sunday in two separate raids.

The rebel group has achieved infamy for its human rights abuses. It swells its ranks by raiding camps for displaced people in northern Uganda and kidnapping children living there, forcing boys into combat and girls into sexual slavery.

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