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From the November 2003 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 50, No. 11)

Uganda: Unholy Children’s Crusade

Foreign Envoys Speak Out on Kony

The New Vision (government-owned), Kampala, Uganda, Aug. 20, 2003

Ugandan soldier and displaced woman
A Ugandan soldier watches as a woman chased from her home by the civil war in northern Uganda pours her World Food Program ration into a pan (Photo: Alexander Joe/AFP-Getty Images).
In theory, it sounds an easy job, but in practice it may not be easy for the international community, including the United Nations, to simply walk over across Uganda’s border to intervene in a conflict that is more internal than external. Although Uganda is a member of the U.N., there are rules that bar the international community from intervening at will.

The U.S. ambassador to Uganda, Jimmy Kolker, explained: “There is nothing in the U.N. Charter which allows the U.N. to intervene, either militarily or through a peacekeeping force, without a request or concurrence from the government of Uganda.” Italian ambassador Maurizio Teucci concurred that securing a political or peacekeeping role by the U.N. in the conflict in northern Uganda was complicated because the U.N. typically intervenes only in interstate conflicts.

“In order to have the U.N. play a role, I think it should have a decision of the Security Council. The decision of the Security Council, in my view, cannot be adopted in the Uganda case because this is an internal conflict. And the government of Uganda has the right to say: ‘No, this is an internal matter,’ ” said Teucci.

Most people seem to think that the U.N. must come to Uganda as it has done in the Democratic Republic of Congo or Liberia. But the diplomats argued that the conflict in northern Uganda might not yet be as disastrous as those of Congo or Liberia to warrant U.N. peacekeepers.

“Uganda is not split into two parts;...the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) has not got a political manifesto. The LRA doesn’t want to kick the government out of Kampala. But in Liberia and Congo, the rebels are fighting for state power,” said Teucci. But he admitted that the government of Italy was following the [LRA leader Joseph] Kony conflict keenly and would be willing to have Italian organizations facilitate the peaceful resolution of the insurgency.

The European countries, Teucci disclosed, were not sitting back and watching innocent Ugandans perish in the war. “Recently the European Parliament discussed the conflict in the north and they stressed the need to find a political solution.” But he cautioned that the conflict is not an easy one to solve.

All the diplomats interviewed hailed the peace initiative by Acholi religious and traditional leaders. But one of them queried the standpoint of the members of Parliament: “We’re yet to see the role of the Acholi Parliamentary Group....They should come out openly and condemn Kony other than just blaming the government all the time. Otherwise I would think they just want to make political gains out of the war.”

Five legislators from three Acholi districts—Gulu, Kitgum, and Pader—are on the now inactive Presidential Peace Team (PPT), constituted last year by President Museveni. The chairman of the PPT, Eriya Kategaya, was dropped in the last Cabinet reshuffle in May. Since then, the government has not named Kategaya’s replacement, and the peace team has fallen into a slumber.

“What is very important is to activate the PPT. I know the PPT has never met the rebels, although one of its senior members, Salim Saleh, was in Gulu,” Teucci implored. “It is important that the PPT begin to work in the field, on the ground, to try to get in touch with the rebels.”

Kolker says the government must listen to the local communities’ views on how to solve the rebellion. “What is most disturbing to me is that neither the government of Uganda nor the Acholi leaders seem to accept the legitimacy of the solution proposed by the other,” Kolker noted. “The president has said that anyone advocating a peaceful solution is a traitor or soft on terrorism. Whereas the Acholi leaders have said not only should there be no military solution, but...that the military is part of the problem. I don’t agree with either of those points of view. There is not ultimately going to be a purely military solution....I hope that there will be a dialogue at the top level, among Ugandans, to recognize both of those realities.” Kolker said America has this year committed US$70 million for humanitarian help to northern Uganda.

Finn Forsberg, the chargé d’affaires at the Swedish Embassy, said the international community cannot take the lead in ending the war. Forsberg said that as long as Uganda “opens up,” Sweden would be willing to support peace mediation between Uganda and the Kony rebels. “Of course we have been discussing this with the European heads of missions,” Forsberg said.

Kolker said, “The solution can’t be something imposed from the outside. But I do think that the international community needs to be active and I hope that the government of Uganda recognizes it in the interest of saving lives.” He urged Uganda and Sudan to be genuine about their renewed relations. “We also encourage Sudan to stop aiding the LRA, which is a terrorist movement, and to stop those activities that have led it to be one of the states named as a supporter of terrorist groups.”

Despite repeated accusations that Sudan still arms Kony, Sudan’s ambassador in Kampala, Sirajuddin Hamid Yousuf, said Kony trusts neither the government of Sudan nor that of Uganda. He proposed that Uganda’s government allow neutral third parties like the governments of South Africa or China, or the European Commission, to mediate with the rebels. “That could provide the necessary guarantee to the LRA; then they can be asked to nominate their negotiating team and a venue can be determined for peace talks,” he said.

If possible, said Teucci, arrangements could be made to give the surrendering rebels money to live in exile, or integrate them into the army.

Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the pope’s envoy to Uganda, declined to say anything about the role of the international community. But he emphasized that the conflict in the north needs joint efforts: “We should all humble ourselves and work together. No single person has the solution.”

The diplomats no doubt have valid points. But neither they nor the common people in northern Uganda have the answer at their fingertips. And yet they all have a living hope—that the ghost that has haunted northern Uganda for 17 bloody years will one day be brought to its knees.

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