The rebel takeover in the Central African Republic has stalled international efforts to track down the outlaw Lord’s Resistance Army (LAR) and its leader Joseph Kony, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court.
Rebels who seized power in the Central African Republic (CAR) this year effectively halted efforts to find the LRA there. Ugandan troops and their U.S. advisers suspended the hunt amid uncertainty over how the rebel coalition, known as Seleka, might pursue the group and its leader Joseph Kony.
“With the collapse in CAR, I think the effort, the real sense of urgency and focus on getting Joseph Kony, has collapsed somewhat,” said Jennifer Cooke, director of Center for Strategic and International Studies Africa, a US based think tank.
Kony is accused of being responsible for murder, kidnapping, and sexual slavery across four African countries. His ability to now move more freely and capitalize on instability worries Human Rights Watch official Sarah Margon.
“Certainly chaos in Eastern Congo and in CAR could give the LRA the time to regroup. And if nobody is particularly focused on the LRA as part of the larger regional issues, that is also another way in which they can regroup,” said Sarah Margon, Human Rights Watch. “They sort of become invisible.”
Rebel rule in Bangui creates new opportunities for the LRA, said Sasha Lezhnev of the human rights group, The Enough Project.
“Everyday that this situation continues, that the Ugandans and the U.S. advisers are just sitting in their seats watching the game unfold, is creating danger for the LRA to set up new abductions, to set up new safe havens, as they have done many, many times,” she stated.
In Central Africa, it is easy for such a mobile force to hide.
“The terrain with the forest canopy makes it very difficult to track them, even with infrared technology. They move in groups of three to five. They’re now down to just a few hundred fighters,” Lezhev said. “But Kony and his top commanders, but particularly Kony, has always been very, very resilient.”
Seleka rebels controlling the Central African Republic have not made chasing the Lord’s Resistance Army a priority, said Cooke.
“The Seleka coalition is very fractured. It’s a lot of very ambitious individuals and groups that have very different agendas. Governance and security broadly is probably not one of them,” added Cooke.
Cooke also questions the commitment of the previous government in Bangui, which left Seleka even less to live up to.
“What commitment there was has now pretty much collapsed. It’s just going to be pretty hard to do that when Ugandan troops can not collaborate with troops in Eastern Congo, when Central Africa is in such disrepair,” she said.
While regional governments have recognized rebel rule in Bangui, an African Union task force against the LRA is awaiting fresh rules of engagement in their pursuit of Joseph Kony.