- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 21, 2006

NAIROBI, Kenya — Uganda’s president traveled to southern Sudan yesterday to bolster faltering talks between his government and rebels, discussions aimed at ending a brutal 19-year conflict in northern Uganda, the government’s spokesman said.

The two sides signed a truce in August, but reported violations have led to ugly recriminations and temporary walkouts by mediators and raised fears the deal to end one of Africa’s longest wars may unravel.

In a speech to the southern Sudan parliament, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni thanked the vice president of the region, Riek Machar, for leading the peace talks, according to a statement released by Mr. Museveni’s office. After the speech, he canceled a press conference in the southern Sudanese capital of Juba, saying he had to return to Uganda.

Southern Sudan President Salva Kiir said his government was committed to ensuring peace in Uganda because the country had helped end a war between rebels in his region and the Sudanese government, the statement said.

Earlier, Ugandan government spokesman Robert Kabushenga told the Associated Press by phone from the capital, Kampala, that Mr. Museveni was to “return a sense of perspective to the talks, which seem to have lost their way a little.”

“His visit also shows that Uganda is making the highest-level commitment to the peace process,” the spokesman added.

Mr. Kabushenga also said Mr. Museveni would meet with Mr. Machar, Mr. Kiir and negotiators on both sides.

The Lord’s Resistance Army has led a brutal insurgency against Mr. Museveni’s government since the mid-1980s, leaving tens of thousands dead and forcing 1.7 million people to flee their homes, according to relief organizations.

The LRA is notorious for cutting off the tongues and lips of innocent civilians and kidnapping thousands of children, forcing them to participate in ritual murders and to become soldiers and concubines.

The conflict has spilled over into southern Sudan and into the Democratic Republic of Congo, causing further instability in the politically volatile region.

The Ugandan government yesterday ordered its border with Sudan temporarily closed after unknown assailants killed 38 persons last week on roads leading to Juba, and Ugandan army units near the border were placed on high alert, army spokesman Maj. Felix Kulayigye said.

Maj. Kulayigye blamed the attack Wednesday on LRA rebels. LRA spokesman Godfrey Ayo, however, rejected the accusation, saying its fighters in southern Sudan were not responsible.

The U.N. refugee agency said Friday it had suspended its operations helping Sudanese refugees return from Uganda because of the attack. Hundreds of passengers trying to travel to southern Sudan were also stranded at the border.

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