Source AP ©

Ugandan government and rebels make significant concessions during peace talks

The government and rebels responsible for one of Africa's longest wars in Uganda have made significant concessions during peace talks, with the rebels dropping demands for constitutional reform and the government agreeing to allow former guerrilla fighters into the army.

The deal, signed Wednesday, was one step toward a comprehensive peace agreement between the government and the Lord's Resistance Army to end a two-decade insurgency.

"This is a landmark in the peace process," Martin Ojul, head of the rebel negotiating team, told the Associated Press. "We are very pleased with recent progress and have a confidence boost now that we can reach a full agreement."

Rebels had originally demanded constitutional reforms that would introduce a federal system in this country of 29 million people, decreasing the powers of President Yoweri Museveni.

The next issue on the agenda - reconciliation and accountability - may prove more difficult.

Peace talks resumed last week after a monthslong impasse. The process has been marred by temporary walkouts and accusations of truce violations by both sides.

The LRA's top five leaders are wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court but have repeatedly demanded immunity from prosecution in return for signing a peace deal.

The LRA has been blamed for murder, mutilations and kidnapping children for use as soldiers and sex slaves. Up to 2 million people have been displaced by the conflict, aid organizations say.

The rebel group is made up of the remnants of a rebellion that began after Museveni took power in 1986. The ascent of Museveni, from southern Uganda, enraged many in the north who accused his troops of brutality.

The conflict has spilled over into southern Sudan and Congo, causing further instability in the region. If both sides reach a comprehensive deal, it will be a breakthrough in pacifying northern Uganda, eastern Congo and southern Sudan.