KAMPALA, Dec 14 – Peace talks between the Ugandan government and a reclusive Muslim rebel group could begin early next year, sources on both sides told AFP on Sunday.
"I have named my team and we want to start negotiations on January 15," said Jamil Mukulu, commander of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF).
The ADF rebellion began in the 1990s and the heaviest fighting occurred between 1996 and 2001, forcing tens of thousands of people in western Uganda’s Rwenzori region to flee their homes.
The group, which says it is fighting for equal rights for Muslims in the East African country, was effectively driven out of Uganda in 2001 and has since been based in the eastern part of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Mukulu, speaking from his base in the DRC, expressed frustration that the government had not yet publicly declared an interest in peace talks.
Contacted by AFP, Ugandan Internal Affairs Minister Ruhakana Rugunda said that if the ADF proved it was serious about peace, the government was ready for talks.
"The question of public announcements is not important," he said. "A genuine ADF delegation is welcome and will be received."
Rugunda also dismissed concerns that a rebel delegation would be arrested after crossing the border. "The government of Uganda cannot arrest someone when it comes for peace," he said.
Mukulu said the ADF would demand amnesty for all of its fighters as part of the talks. It said some of his top commanders might want positions within Uganda’s national army.
He also said he wanted to meet his counterparts "face to face." The government should not shy away from peace talks just because a deal agreed with the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) had broken down, he added.
Uganda’s two-year peace process with the LRA has stagnated after rebel leader Joseph Kony balked at signing the final agreement agreed by his representatives in April.
"I am not the LRA," Mukulu said. "We are ready for peace. We are Ugandans and we want to come home."