Ugandan government, rebels extend ceasefire

JUBA, Sudan (AFP) — The Ugandan government and rebels of the Lord's Resistance Army agreed on Wednesday to extend a ceasefire for one month, paving the way for the resumption of stalled peace talks, officials said.

Ugandan Interior Minister Ruhukana Rugunda and David Matsanga, head of the LRA negotiating team, signed the agreement in Juba, capital of south Sudan, a statement from the south Sudan ministry of presidential affairs said.

"We have come with a clear mind," Rugunda told reporters before the signing. "Our desire is to renew the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement right away."

The cessation of hostilities agreement, agreed in August, was due to expire in December but was extended for a brief period until January 31. Wednesday's deal takes the extension to Feb 29.

"We need to start work on a mechanism for a comprehensive solution to the conflict," south Sudan vice president Riek Machar told reporters before the meeting.

Last month, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni accused LRA chief Joseph Kony of not taking peace talks seriously, pointing to reports that he killed second in command Vincent Otti -- who was key in launching the talks in July 2005 -- for allegedly spying.

The International Criminal Court (ICC), which has indicted five LRA commanders including Kony and Otti, has refused to lift the war crimes charges despite calls by northern Ugandan elders and some government officials.

Kony has vowed never to sign a final peace agreement unless the ICC indictments are lifted.

The conflict has left tens of thousands of people dead and 1.8 million displaced out of a total population of 2.7 million in northern Uganda, where the militia had engaged in enslaving, torturing, raping and murdering civilians.

Aid agencies say the talks, though foundering, have resulted in improved security in the region, where human rights groups have accused both sides of atrocities.

The LRA, which initially claimed they were fighting for the establishment of a government based on Biblical theology, has now accepted to sit down with the government and address economic and political marginalisation.