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UN warns of LRA threat following US and Uganda troop pullout

This is an aerial photo taken Saturday May 8, 2017, showing the area near Zemio, Central African Republic. Earlier in the month, a group of Lord's Resistance Army fighters attacked the village of Banangui, about 35 miles from Zemio.

ZACK BADDORF/AP

By EDITH M. LEDERER | Associated Press | Published: June 13, 2017

UNITED NATIONS — The threat from the Lord's Resistance Army can't be underestimated following the departure of Ugandan and United States forces that were deployed to pursue the rebels, the U.N. envoy for central Africa warned Tuesday.

Francois Lounceny Fall told the Security Council he is concerned that the withdrawal of troops from the two countries "will create a security vacuum that may be exploited by the LRA and other armed groups operating in the region."

He said the U.N. peacekeeping force in volatile Central African Republic isn't mandated to conduct anti-LRA military operations and the country's security forces lack training and need structural reforms.

In May, the African Union Peace and Security Council also warned that the LRA has not yet been eliminated and could "rejuvenate itself" if countries don't "urgently" fill the void.

Although scores of LRA fighters have surrendered or been killed in recent months, the whereabouts of LRA leader Joseph Kony remain a mystery. Of the five LRA commanders indicted by the International Criminal Court in 2005 for war crimes and crimes against humanity, Kony is the only one still at large.

Recent defectors from the rebel group suggest he is sick and hiding somewhere in the vast, ungoverned spaces of central Africa.

The United States, in announcing its pullout from the military mission against the LRA, said in March that the rebel group's active membership is now less than 100. The U.S. first sent about 100 special forces as military advisers to the mission in 2011, and in 2014 sent 150 Air Force personnel.

Uganda announced in April it was ending its manhunt and pulling out 1,500 troops because "the mission to neutralize the LRA has now been successfully achieved."

Fall expressed gratitude to the Ugandan forces and other countries fighting the rebel group, but stressed that "there is a need to remain focused on efforts aimed at the total eradication of the LRA."

He said the U.N. Regional Office for Central Africa which he heads will remain engaged, including by reviewing the U.N.'s regional strategy to address the threat and ensure coordination of key parties.

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