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Armed Conflict

Hunt for elusive Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony

Joseph Kony, leader of the Ugandan rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), is undoubtedly the most wanted war criminal in Africa. The militia chief is believed to be hiding in the central African jungle.

Back in 2005, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony and two of his commanders. They are accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Initially the search for Kony had been slow and attracted little attention, but all that changed following a controversial media campaign by a US non-governmental organization called "Invisible Children." In a short You Tube film, the Internet activists portrayed Kony's atrocities, which include murder, rape, enslavement and forced recruitment of child soldiers. Nearly one hundred million users have viewed the video since its release.

One step forward, two steps back

A newly formed military unit under the command of the African Union (AU) is now on a mission to find Kony.

The leader of the Lord's Resistance Army, Joseph Kony.
(Photo by Stuart Price, dapd)

Wanted: Joseph Rao Kony, head of Lord's Resistance Army

The soldiers come from Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and the Central African Republic.

These are the countries that have suffered most from the conflict with the LRA. The mission requires 5,000 troops, but so far just half the soldiers have been deployed, most of them from Uganda.

"We can get Kony," says Felix Kulayigye, spokesman for the Ugandan army, "But it takes time. We need logistical and technological support, planes, food, and fuel."

The area in which the troops must search for Kony is about the size of France, covering Central Africa, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Not only is it a large territory, but it also features rough terrain and dense jungles. This is where Kony and the last of the LRA fighters are believed to be hiding.

In early September, LRA rebels abducted 55 people in the Central African province of Bangassou, giving a slight clue to the force searching for Kony.

Not playing by the same rules

The LRA has only around 300 fighters, according to Kasper Agger, who works in Uganda for a non-governmental organization, "Enough Project".

 A Ugandan child gets ready to sleep on the floor. Photo by Tugela Ridley /AFP/Getty Images

LRA rebels allegedly recruited child soldiers or used them as sex slaves.

He explains why the troops are still having a hard time finding the rebels. "The rebels can move freely across the border into the Congo - in contrast to those pursuing them," Agger told DW.

For example, Uganda's approximately 2,000 troops involved in the manhunt are forbidden from crossing into Democratic Republic of Congo where the rebels rarely meet any armed opposition, Agger says.

The LRA's 25 year-old rebel movement was a result of internal power struggles in Uganda. In 1986, current president Yoweri Museveni took power by force. Museveni, who comes from southwestern Uganda, portraxed himself as a liberator from northern rule. Northern Uganda was not only the origin of Museveni's predecessor, Milton Obote, but the army also consisted almost exclusively of northerners.

Hence Museveni's soldiers became more violent against people from northern Uganda where, in 1986, Joseph Kony launched his resistance movement, the" Lord's Resistance Army". Kony alleges that he founded the rebel movement on the orders of the “Holy Spirit”.

Over the years, support for the rebels mainly came from neighboring Sudan. Khartoum used the LRA as proxies in battling internal enemies. In 2006, the LRA moved from Uganda due to increased military pressure.

Talk of peace with guns

Slow and painstaking peace talks between the LRA and the Ugandan government collapsed in 2008. The Ugandan army bears much of the blame, says Mareike Schomerus of the London School of Economics.

Women line up for food aid at a World Food Programme distribution center in northern Uganda. (ddp images/AP Photo)

An estimated 2 million people have been displaced due to the LRA conflict

The troops simply continued their attacks on LRA combatants at key moments of the negotiations.

"For years Ugandan Defense Forces acted just like the LRA against civilians," Schomerus said in an interview with DW.

Northern Uganda has suffered greatly due to the conflict. “People here have no more faith in the military,” says ethnologist Lioba Lenhart from the Institute of Peace and Strategic Studies (IPSS) in Gulu, northern Uganda.

So, even if the AU troops succeed in arresting rebel leader Joseph Kony, Uganda and its neighboring countries would be obliged to address the underlying causes of the conflict, says Mareike Schomerus. "Experience has shown that bringing in more troops is not the way to bring peace."

Meanwhile the hunt for Kony continues. Observers fear he and his followers could be on their way to Sudan's troubled Darfur region, where they might receive shelter from the Sudanese government.

DW.DE