Before talks in Juba began in summer 2006, the results of minimal previous political negotiations between the warring parties had been disheartening, leaving little hope that any peace venture could work. Past negotiations had failed because LRA demands had not been clear, the Ugandan government had issued deadlines or launched attacks, and grievances at the heart of the conflict had not been addressed.
By 2005, in the wake of failed peace efforts and inconclusive military campaigns, reliable contact with the LRA had broken down. International hostility towards the LRA was growing, notably embodied in the controversial investigation into its abuses by the International Criminal Court (ICC) that led to warrants being issued against five LRA commanders in July 2005.
The Sudanese government’s support for the LRA weakened after Khartoum signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) with the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) in January 2005. The CPA led to the creation of the semi-autonomous Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS), which had its own interest in ending LRA violence. Its new Vice President Riek Machar began to investigate the possibility of facilitating negotiations rather than relying on force to push the LRA out of Sudan. Southern Sudanese politicians had been receiving signals from both conflict parties that a major obstacle to a peaceful settlement had been the lack of a common platform for talks, or a trusted mediator, but that by early 2006 the timing for GoSS to offer such platform seemed right.
The Netherlands-based non-governmental organisation IKV Pax Christi had also been seeking to bring the warring parties to the negotiating table, driven by the belief that talks involving civil society were the only viable option to bring lasting peace.
While Machar was attempting to reach the LRA leadership, LRA/M representatives were reaching out to Pax Christi, who facilitated initial contact with Machar. After a series of covert meetings, Machar was able to relay the LRA’s preparedness for peace talks to the Ugandan government.
Talks opened in Juba on 14 July 2006. The delegations swiftly agreed a negotiating agenda:
1) cessation of hostilities
2) comprehensive political solutions
3) justice and accountability
4) demobilisation, disarmament and reintegration (DDR)
5) a permanent ceasefire
Detailed and important agreements were eventually reached for each item. But creating momentum and political will proved arduous and the talks struggled to achieve the level playing field necessary to build trust between the parties. The reasons for these difficulties and ultimately for the failure of the talks are discussed below. They include: mismatched motivations and expectations of the parties; asymmetries in their negotiating capacities and mandates; continued violence and distrust; the complexity of the interests being represented and the difficulty in managing the talks process; and international actors’ problems in fully supporting the talks.