The Lord’s Resistance Army led by Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony is still kidnapping and abusing children even while security forces have intensified the hunt for him and his fighters, according to the United Nations.
Between July 2009 and February 2012, the LRA kidnapped at least 591 children mainly from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic and South Sudan, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon wrote in his first report to the Security Council on the situation, published yesterday.
Girls were forced into marriage with combatants and the group, comprising 200 to 500 fighters, committed crimes such as rape, murder, maiming and sexual slavery, the report said.
“The LRA continues to cast a long shadow across central Africa, causing enormous suffering for children,” Radhika Coomaraswamy, the secretary-general’s special representative for children and armed conflict, said in a separate statement.
The LRA, which first emerged almost three decades ago in Uganda and is classified as a terrorist group by the U.S., was driven out by Uganda’s army in 2004 and scattered into bordering countries, the statement said.
Kony, a former altar boy who says the LRA is inspired by the Ten Commandments, faces International Criminal Court charges of murder, mutilation, rape and abducting and turning 30,000 children into sex slaves and killers.
While the rebel fighters have been weakened by international efforts to eliminate them, sporadic attacks have continued and they have changed tactics by abducting children for shorter periods, the UN said.
U.S. President Barack Obama in October authorized the deployment of 100 soldiers, mainly special forces, to Central Africa to help Uganda and neighboring armies track down Kony and the LRA rebels. The African Union in March announced it had formed a joint force of 5,000 soldiers from Uganda, DRC, CAR and South Sudan to join the hunt.
Kony was catapulted into the international spotlight after San Diego-based Invisible Children in March released a video that gained widespread exposure on the Internet.
While the so-called Kony 2012 campaign has won celebrity backing from talk-show host Oprah Winfrey, singer Justin Bieber and actress Angelina Jolie, it has also angered some of Kony’s victims who say it doesn’t accurately reflect their pain.