JUBA, Sudan – Southern Sudanese leaders said Thursday they are organizing peace talks with the rebel Lord's Resistance Army and the Ugandan government to try to end the brutal war in northern Uganda that has spilled across the border into their own country.
Salva Kiir Mayardit, southern Sudan's president, said a delegation from the shadowy rebel group that has become notorious for kidnapping and enslaving thousands of children was already in Juba, and a delegation from the Ugandan government was expected.
"What we want is peace — and peace has to be negotiated," he said. "I don't want the LRA (Lord's Resistance Army) to remain in southern Sudan. They have been raping women and girls. They have been killing. They have been looting. They have been abducting."
He said the opening of the peace talks was a matter of days, even hours.
The Ugandan government has expressed skepticism southern Sudanese mediators would be successful, given the rebels' history of rejecting peace efforts.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said Thursday he was not opposed to the negotiations even though some of the rebels are wanted on war crimes charges.
Kiir spoke to reporters after a closed-door meeting with a high-level U.N. Security Council delegation that came to this capital of southern Sudan, just emerging from more than two decades of civil war between the Muslim-dominated north and mainly Christian and animist south.
The war ended in January 2005 with a peace agreement that established a government of national unity in Khartoum and an autonomous southern Sudan.
Kiir, who is also first vice president in the national government, said southern Sudanese leaders "lured" the LRA out of hiding "by asking them to seek the peaceful solution to the conflict."
Kiir said he did not know the whereabouts of the LRA leader Joseph Kony, who has been charged with crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court, the world's first permanent war crimes tribunal, along with four of his top deputies.
The LRA's political agenda is unclear — Kony has called for Uganda to be governed according to the Bible's Ten Commandments.
His fighters are known for abducting thousands of children, forcing them to become fighters, porters or concubines. The group has killed thousands of civilians and forced more than a million to flee their homes in Uganda, and is accused of attacking civilians and aid workers in Sudan and Congo.
Sudan once backed LRA rebels against the Ugandan government, which in turn had supported Macher's Sudan People's Liberation Army in its civil war with the Sudanese government. Sudan and Uganda normalized relations in 2001.