Misanet.com / IPS, 8 January - When Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni meets with Sudanese leader Omar al Bashir this week in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum, he is likely to seek the deportation of Joseph Kony, leader of a rebel group operating in northern Uganda with bases in southern Sudan.
Museveni has accused Khartoum of supporting Kony's Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) and Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) operating in western Uganda.
He claims that former Sudanese Speaker and Islamic leader Hassan al Turabi supported the rebels, with the involvement of Osama bin Laden, who lived in Sudan in the mid-1990s. Bin Laden has been accused of masterminding the 11 September terrorist attacks on New York and Washington that killed more than 3,000 people.
Sudan, on the other hand, accuses Uganda of supporting the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), which is fighting for autonomy or independence for the largely Christian southern Sudan.
In his New Year address, Museveni said his government is now "cooperating" with the Sudanese government, as well as with "our international allies to ensure that criminal (Kony) is relocated from Southern Sudan as had been agreed by General Bashir and myself some years ago in Nairobi."
The insurgency in northern Uganda from 1987 has caused untold human suffering and resulted in the displacement of some 600,000 people. In Western Uganda some 150,000 people have been displaced, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
The districts most affected by the war include Bundibugyo, Gulu, Kabarole, Kapchorwa, Kasese, Katakwi, Kabale and Kitgum.
A total of 43 separate bomb blasts also have been reported in Uganda since 1997, carried by suspected terrorists mainly in the capital Kampala, killing at least 80 and injuring 262 people, with massive destruction of property, according to a recent report published in Uganda's Monitor newspaper.
The report, carried in the 23 December edition of the paper, also revealed that some 33 terrorist suspects have been arrested, charged and remanded in custody and that a number of bomb-making materials have been recovered.
This will be Museveni's first visit to Sudan since relations between the two countries were severed in 1995, over accusations of support for each other's insurgent groups.
British Secretary of State for International Development, Clare Short, is expected to preside over the historic meeting between the two leaders, which will be attended by other regional leaders.
The presidents of Eritrea, Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia, Uganda and Sudan will hold the ninth summit of the Inter-Governmental Authority for Development (IGAD), the regional body mandated with mediating peace in the turbulent region, in Khartoum this week.
- We hope that they (Sudan) will be better partners that they have been in the past, said John Nagenda, President Museveni's spokesperson. "This time, they will be under pressure from other powerful countries for them to do something." He did not elaborate.
Nagenda told IPS from the capital Kampala that Uganda is looking forward to a more peaceful year, due to improved security so far achieved by recent major military successes and an amnesty offer to rebels.
Nagenda said the government had in the past year intensified military training for the Uganda People's Defence Forces (UPDF), which has literally been "wiping out" the insurgency in the mountainous western region of Ruwenzori on the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
An amnesty law passed last year by the Ugandan parliament, he added, also is yielding fruit with the surrender of hundreds of the LRA fighters, "severely" weakening the movement bases in northern Uganda. "The amnesty has been successful. People are coming out of the bush all the time," said Nagenda.
Museveni, in his end-year address to the nation, said the army has "permanently pacified" the Ruwenzori region, by destroying rebel bases in western Uganda, making it possible for Internally Displaced People (IDPs) to return to their homes.
- I would like to assure those Ugandans still in those blessed camps that they will be able to go back to their homes this year, Museveni said in a speech broadcast, on 31 Decenber, by Radio Uganda.
Uganda's defence minister Amama Mbabazi last week also reiterated Museveni's position, by vowing to "crush" the two rebel groups active in the north and western parts of the country by the end of the year.
- I don't expect the LRA to survive 2002, Mbabazi told an international news agency on 31 December. "The desire to mop up these remnants is there, and the exercise will be decisive."
Recent humanitarian updates confirm that calm is returning to many of the war torn districts, a sign of improved security both in west and northern Uganda where in the past six months, a high number of rebels have returned to their communities, through the amnesty bill.
In its November/December report, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs confirms that the amnesty was so far yielding "encouraging" results particularly in the northern district of Gulu where more than 50 rebels of LRA have surrendered in the past two months.
- Gulu has seen some very encouraging developments over the last two months, the report says. Internally displaced persons (IDPs) "are taking advantage of the improved security situation to work in their gardens outside the camps."
- There is increased movement along the roads and people are travelling deeper into the villages where they have not been able to go for so long, the report says.
- A good number of IDPs, the report adds, "have made their own way to their communities without reporting to the authorities, leaving only about 100 LRA fighters operating in northern Uganda, with an estimated 300 others still in southern Sudan."
News agencies in Khartoum also have reported that some LRA commanders have renounced their rebellion and sought refuge at the Ugandan embassy in Sudan, and that arrangements for their return to Uganda were being made by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).