US suspends hunt for Lord's Resistance Army, offers rewards for leader instead

With Central African Republic's new leaders not helping find Joseph Kony and other Lord's Resistance Army chiefs, US posts reward instead

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 05 April, 2013, 4:42am

The United States has been forced to suspend its two-year hunt for Lord's Resistance Army chief Joseph Kony and instead has offered a US$5 million reward for the capture of one of the world's most wanted men.

Rewards were also posted on Wednesday for three other rebel leaders wanted for war crimes.

Uganda and Washington said they had been forced to call off their troops hunting for Kony in the jungles of the Central African Republic, after rebels seized power in the capital, Bangui. About 100 US special forces troops had been involved in the search for Kony, supporting about 3,000 African troops, mainly Ugandans, in a joint effort to find the warlord and his men.

A spokesman for the Ugandan military, Felix Kulayigye, told journalists on Wednesday that Seleka, the rebel alliance that ousted Central African Republic president Francois Bozize, was unwilling to co-operate with the Kony hunt, so the operation had been suspended.

"Seleka has not been co-operating with us since they took over power," Kulayigye said. "We have been forced to suspend operations until further notice."

The LRA, a Ugandan rebel group, is accused of mutilations and child abductions during its brutal, two-decade insurgency across four countries.

Kony - a self-proclaimed prophet who claims his rebels are fighting to establish a government based on the biblical Ten Commandments - and other LRA leaders face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court.

Kony's name was added to the US State Department's war crimes rewards programme along with fellow LRA members Okot Odhiambo and Dominic Ongwen, and Sylvestre Mudacumura from the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), in the hopes that the men would be brought to justice. The FDLR is made up of remnants of the radical Hutu regime that carried out the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

The LRA "for almost 20 years has tormented and terrorised children across Uganda, the [Democratic Republic of Congo], the Central African Republic and South Sudan. It has to stop," US Secretary of State John Kerry said.

But he admitted Kony and his cronies would be hard to find.

"The LRA is broken down into small bands, scattered throughout dense jungle … controlling territory through tactics of fear and intimidation," he said in a column on the Huffington Post news website.

The LRA was "one of the world's most brutal armed groups," Ambassador for Global Criminal Justice Stephen Rapp said, unveiling the rewards.

"We act today so there can be justice for the innocent men, women and children who've been subjected to mass murder, amputation, enslavement and other atrocities," he said. "Accountability is a pillar of the US atrocity prevention initiative."

The United Nations says about 450,000 people have been displaced by LRA attacks in the countries in which it operates.

Although the number of LRA attacks was down last year, there were some assaults as far west as Bangassou in the Central African Republic, where scores of men, women and children were abducted in September.

US President Barack Obama last year renewed a mission by 100 US special forces, launched in 2011, to help Ugandan troops scour the jungle for Kony, but it has had no success so far.

The rewards programmes had "proven to be a valuable tool" in hunting down those wanted for "the worst crimes known to humankind by generating valuable tips", Rapp said .

Additional reporting by McClatchy-Tribune