The United Nations humanitarian chief and the elusive rebel commander of Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) have discussed the ongoing peace process aimed at bringing peace to war-ravaged northern Uganda.
Jan Egeland, the UN Under-Secretary General for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, revealed to the New Vision published on Monday that he had urged Vincent Otti, LRA's second in command, to release women and children as they proceed the peace talks with the government.
"I spoke with LRA's Vincent Otti for twenty minutes on phone on the aspect of the peace talk process and how to promote humanitarian principles in this peace talk process and how to ensure that the women and children can come back home and reintegrated into the society," Egeland said at the UN-OCHA office in Gulu.
During the ongoing peace negotiations mediated by the government of southern Sudan, the Ugandan government and the LRA signed the first ever truce agreement requiring the rebels to assemble in designated zones in southern Sudan.
The UN chief, who spent a night at Opit Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camp with 24,700 people, was optimistic that peace was coming to the war-torn north.
"People are coming out in record numbers from the LRA. They are moving to assembly points in southern Sudan and there is an effective ceasefire for the first time. I think we are seeing the beginning of an end to the most terrible conflict of this generation," Egeland said.
However, he said the rebel leaders wanted by the UN's International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes must not be given immunity in exchange for ending their brutal war.
"There should be no impunity for indicted people or anybody else who has committed crimes against humanity," Egeland said, who has tagged the current situation in northern Uganda as "one of the world's most neglected humanitarian crisis" after his last tour a few months ago.
The Hague based ICC issued warrants for rebel leader Joseph Kony, Otti and three others of the LRA to answer for the war crimes committed in northern Uganda, where a 20-year conflict has left tens of thousands of people dead and over 1.4 million homeless.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has agreed to offer blanket amnesty to the rebel leadership if they choose to end the insurgency and sign a comprehensive peace agreement by Tuesday. But the deadline may be extended as negotiation is still underway in Juba, southern Sudan.
Egeland announced that due to the relative peace in the region, the UN has this year asked for more fund from donors to facilitate the return of IDPs from the camps.
"We have asked for US$267 million and so far we have realized US$187 million and much of this money shall be for food, water and sanitation, health and education of the children," he said.
"We still need to work in the areas of humanitarian and development to promote peace and reconciliation in the north," he added, urging the international community to start to consider the recovery and rebuilding of northern Uganda.
(Xinhua News Agency September 12, 2006)