Sudanese President Lt. Gen. Omar Hassan el Bashir arrived Friday in Uganda for talks to ease tension between the two neighbors and eliminate insecurity in the troubled Great Lakes region.
Bashir, who was last in Uganda at President Yoweri Museveni’s swearing-in ceremony at Kololo in May 2001, met Saturday for the first time for landmark peace talks with the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) leader John Garang under Museveni’s chairmanship.
Following five weeks of talks in the Kenyan town of Machakos, Khartoum and the SPLA agreed on July 20 to settle key issues of religion and self-determination blocking an end to the fighting in which about two million people have been killed.
The SPLA has been fighting Khartoum since 1983 for the autonomy of southern Sudan. SPLA is also opposed to the Sharia law. The talks of Bashir in Uganda, to last two days, opened Friday in the Nakasero State House behind closed doors. Museveni and his guest emerged from the first phase of the talks holding hands, chatting and laughing, The New Vision reported.
The talks will also focus on the progress of Operation Iron Fist, the code-name for the Uganda-Sudan operation to destroy Lord’s Resistance Army bases in southern Sudan, sources said. Sudan and Uganda had traded accusations that each supported the others' rebels for years, but since March, Khartoum has allowed the Ugandan army to chase the LRA in southern Sudan. Observers say the operation has not been as successful as Kampala had hoped. Brutal attacks have recently increased since a unit of the LRA slipped back into Uganda.
Uganda’s Third Deputy prime minister and foreign affairs minister James Wapakhabulo said, “These are bilateral talks to improve our relations. President Museveni will mediate in a meeting between President Bashir and one of his opposition members, John Garang, tomorrow (today).”
For his part, Uganda’s Defense minister Amama Mbabazi said, “The talks are to help ease tension between our two countries. The leaders are trying to find lasting channels to end insecurity in this region.” (Albawaba.com)
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