WASHINGTON (AFP) – The United States on Wednesday unveiled a $5 million bounty on Lord’s Resistance Army chief Joseph Kony, one of the world’s most wanted men, and posted rewards for three other rebel leaders.
Kony has long been on the run in the jungles of central Africa, but his LRA, a Ugandan rebel group, has waged a fierce insurgency and campaign of mutilations and child abductions for two decades across four countries.
The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for Kony and other top LRA leaders on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Kony’s name was added to the State Department’s war crimes rewards program 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 LRA was “one of the world’s most brutal armed groups,” Ambassador for Global Criminal Justice Stephen Rapp told reporters.
“We act today so that 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 key pillar of the United States atrocity prevention initiative,” Rapp added.
The United Nations says about 450,000 people have been displaced by LRA attacks in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Uganda and South Sudan.
The LRA has recently turned to ivory trafficking and extended its area of operations, a UN Security Council meeting was told in December.
Although the number of LRA attacks was down last year, there were some assaults as far west as Bangassou in Central African Republic, where scores of men, women and children were abducted in September.
US President Barack Obama last year authorized a mission by 100 US special forces helping Ugandan troops scour the African jungles for Kony.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland confirmed that the hunt has been suspended after rebels seized control of the Central African Republic last month.
Turning to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rapp said the country has been “plagued by conflict, displacement and insecurity.”
“Innocent civilians have suffered continued atrocities at the hands of armed groups such as the FDLR and M23, that support themselves by pillage of the population and exploitation of precious minerals.”
The FDLR is made up of remnants of the radical Hutu regime which carried out the 1994 Rwandan genocide, while M23 is a mainly Congolese Tutsi rebel group UN experts say is backed by Rwanda and Uganda, charges denied by both countries.
The rewards program had “proven to be a valuable tool” in hunting down those wanted for “the worst crimes known to human kind by generating valuable tips,” Rapp said.
In the past two years, the program has made 14 payments of an average of $400,000 per person “with the largest payment being $2 million,” he said.
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