Uganda has suspended the hunt for fugitive warlord Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) fighters, blaming hostility toward foreign troops by Central African Republic (CAR) rebels who seized power last month.
About 100 US special forces helping with intelligence and logistical support also called off operations temporarily, a US embassy official said, but it was not immediately clear if troops from other countries in the regional force were also giving up the search.
However, South African President Jacob Zuma said yesterday he has decided to pull the country’s troops out of the Central African Republic because the deal under which they were deployed has become void with the fall of the government there.
“We have taken a decision to withdraw our soldiers,” Zuma was quoted as saying by the public broadcaster SABC, at the end of a meeting of the Economic Community of Central African States in the Chadian capital, Ndjamena.
“We were in CAR on the basis of the agreement between the two countries,” he said at the end of the summit, which ended late on Wednesday.
“Our mission was to help train the soldiers... since the coup and the self-appointment of rebels, it was clear that the government is no longer there,” Zuma told the SABC.
Kony is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes. He and his commanders are accused of abducting thousands of children to use as fighters and sex slaves in a rebel army that earned a reputation for chopping off limbs as a method of intimidation and revenge.
Uganda provides more than 3,000 troops of a 5,000-strong African Union force hunting Kony and his fighters, thought to be hiding in jungles straddling the borders of the Central African Republic, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
A separate coalition of rebels in the Central African Republic, known as Seleka, toppled former Central African Republic president Francois Bozize last month. They swept into the capital Bangui in a lightning offensive which triggered days of looting and drew international condemnation.
The Seleka rebels also killed 13 South African soldiers during their attack on Bangui.
“These rebels have been openly hostile to us and following that, the [Ugandan] president [Yoweri Museveni] has ordered us only to be in defensive positions,” said Dick Olum, head of Ugandan troops in the force hunting Kony and also the overall force commander.
“So we’ve temporarily suspended offensive operations against the LRA for now until we receive further orders,” he said on Wednesday.
The LRA fought the Ugandan government for nearly two decades before being ejected from their strongholds in the north of the country in 2005, forcing them to establish bases in the jungles of other countries in the region.
Meanwhile, the US on Wednesday offered a reward of up to US$5 million each for fugitive Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony and some of his top aides.
The US Department of State said that Kony, along with aides identified as Okot Odhiambo and Dominic Ongwen, had been cited under the department’s newly expanded War Crimes Rewards Program.
Under the program the State Department offers rewards of up to US$5 million for information leading to the arrest, transfer, or conviction of such fugitives.