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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 January 2007, 18:02 GMT
Uganda rebels 'welcome in Sudan'
Vincent Otti, second-in-command of Lord's Resistance Army
The rebels have until February 2007 to assemble in southern Sudan
South Sudan's Vice-President Riek Machar has told the BBC Ugandan rebels have not been asked to leave his country, the venue for peace talks.

The Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) want him to be sacked as chief mediator after comments by Sudan's president saying they were no longer welcome.

Mr Machar said he felt the venue should not change - another rebel request - even if he is replaced as mediator.

The talks have been seen as the best chance to end 20 years of conflict.

The talks began in south Sudan's capital, Juba, in July 2006 and have led to a truce.

Thousands have died during the insurgency and some 2m people forced to flee their homes.

'Not easy'

Mr Machar said he expected the talks to resume next Monday.

South Sudan Vice-President Riek Machar
I still see the Juba mediation process as the only mediation process open to both parties
VP Riek Machar

"We have not asked the LRA to leave Sudan. The mediation of the government of southern Sudan is still holding," he told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme.

He said that as far as he was concerned his government was doing a good job running the negotiations.

President Omar al-Bashir's comment, which prompted the latest row, was a retort to accusations that the Sudanese army was still backing the LRA, he said.

"I still see the Juba mediation process as the only mediation process open to both parties."

The LRA has asked for Kenya or South Africa to be considered as venues and new mediators.

But Mr Machar this would put the process back 16 months, as it was "not easy starting the process anew".

"When we started the initiative in September 2005 it did not materialise properly until 15 July - so it took a long line for the process to mature."

Sticking point

As part of a cessation of hostilities pact, rebels are supposed to assemble in two areas by 28 February.

But LRA spokesman Obonyo Olweny said LRA fighters were unable to assembly at points to eventually disarm because of insecurity and because they were under attack by the Ugandan army.

"Fighting has been going on practically every day," he told the BBC's Network Africa programme.

Ugandan army spokesperson Maj Felix Kulaijye, however, blamed the rebels for the violence and refusing to go to assembly points.

He confirmed the military's threat to shoot rebel fighters if they try to re-enter Uganda.

Correspondents say another sticking point that has yet to be discussed at the talks is the issue of reconciliation and accountability.

LRA leader Joseph Kony and three of his top commanders are wanted on war crimes charges by the International Criminal Court and have indicated that no deal can be signed while warrants for their arrest remain in place.


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