Uganda signs pact with rebels, but no one seems happy

Fanfare accompanied the signing of a peace accord between the Ugandan government and rebel leaders here yesterday. But no one looked very happy. Yoweri Museveni, leader of the rebel National Resistance Army, used the moment to lambast Ugandan head of state Gen. Tito Okello for the spate of rapes, murders, and lootings attributed to his soldiers since they ousted Milton Obote in a military coup last July. He also blamed General Okello for instigating the fighting between the rebels and the government's Army that has caused more than 1,000 deaths.

``The violence was not started by the people of Uganda. It was started by the people in power. We are not going to stop until the people who are responsible [are] brought to book,'' he said.

It was hardly an auspicious note for what Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi called ``the beginning of a new era of peace, stability, and tranquillity.''

The government and the NRA have been sparring on the battlefield and at the negotiating table since late August. Key issues that stalled the agreement were the size of rebel representation in the government and a new national Army.

The compromise agreement has awarded Mr. Museveni the influential vice-chairmanship of the ruling military council. Okello remains chairman but is said to profess no interest in politics. Museveni was forced to cede two other demands -- the key defense portfolio and the expulsion of two council members representing troops once loyal to former dictator Idi Amin. In a major concession, the NRA was accorded equal representation with the government's Army on the council.

The coalition rulers face the most difficult challenge yet in Uganda's post-independence history. Solutions which seem straight forward are fraught with obstacles that will be difficult to surmount. To achieve national unity the two factions must not only sweep aside past quarrels but also weld together popular divisions rooted in religious, tribal, and political differences and exacerbated by the atrocities committed against a weary populace.

Analysts have dubbed the peace pact a military solution in political trappings and fear that the NRA has not completely discarded the option of a military offensive if the going gets rough. Sources close to the talks say that Museveni was stalling for time during the negotiations to see if his troops might gain the advantage in the fighting that continued throughout the talks. He has several times threatened to march on the capital of Kampala if the talks disintegrated.

Senior Kenya government officials have said privately that the NRA has been armed by Libya but that Col. Muammar Qaddafi is no longer supporting them. They did not elaborate.

About one-third of Uganda, the fertile west and southwest, has been in NRA hands since October. Earlier in the month Masindi, 137 miles northwest of Kampala, fell to the rebels in an assault that reportedly met with little resistance.

Central to the peace process is a precarious plan to demobilize all government and rebel troops and recruit a fresh, 8,500-strong military force. The plan's weaknesses are manifold. The first problem will be how to persuade an estimated 50,000 men to part with their arms, then integrate them into civilian life, a prospect that daunts Uganda's scant financial and logistical resources. Donors reckon the country needs at least $400 million a year before the battered economy can be set back on its feet.

The recruiting process is equally delicate. Museveni reiterated at the signing ceremony his determination that government soldiers who have committed crimes will not be inducted into the new Army. Given the chaos that exists and the extent of the government Army's alleged banditry, this will be impossible to regulate, analysts here say.

According to the agreement, Kenya, Tanzania, Great Britain, and Canada are to be invited to send observer forces to monitor the ceasefire, demobilization, and recruitment.

Kenya has pledged its assistance and Britain will despatch a military advisory team to Kampala early January.

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