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Report: LRA leader uses Sudan-based camp as safe haven

By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 26, 2013

STUTTGART, Germany — African warlord Joseph Kony has been taking periodic refuge at a secret camp in a disputed region of Sudan with fighters from his Lord’s Resistance Army as they seek to evade a U.S.-backed international manhunt, according to a report released Friday.

The findings are based on firsthand accounts from defectors from the rebel group and satellite imagery of the camp, according to the Washington-based advocacy group The Resolve LRA Crisis Initiative, which issued the report.

“As long as Kony is able to find a safe haven in Sudan, he can avoid pursuit by Ugandan forces by simply crossing the border whenever they get close,” said Michael Poffenberger, executive director of the Resolve group, in a news release. “Sudan should not be allowed to harbor one of the most brutal and notorious war criminals in the world with impunity.”

At its peak, the LRA had about 2,000 fighters, but today the rebel group is believed to have a force of about 250, roaming across parts of the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan and Uganda. The LRA abducted 517 people and killed 51 others in 2012, according to the LRA Crisis Tracker, an online effort launched in 2011 by Resolve and another activist group Invisible Children .

Kony, leader of the LRA and perhaps the most hunted man in Africa, has evaded capture for decades. For more than a year, U.S. special operations forces have been helping in the hunt, providing intelligence gathering support for Ugandan forces who are leading the search for LRA leadership.

However, in their report, “Hidden in Plain Sight: Sudan’s Harboring of the LRA in the Kafia Kingi Enclave, 2009-2013,” officials at Resolve contend that the effort to track down Kony and other LRA leaders is being hampered by the Sudanese government, which the report contends has turned a blind eye to LRA presence in the country. As evidence, the report cites interviews with “eight LRA defectors who were eyewitnesses to LRA movements into Sudanese-controlled territory, four of whom provided separate accounts of Kony’s presence and activities there.”

Those witness testimonies are backed by satellite imagery analysis conducted by DigitalGlobe and commissioned by Amnesty International, which pinpointed a recent Kony camp site, according to Resolve.

The U.S. Embassy in Kampala, Uganda, where U.S. counter-LRA efforts are coordinated, declined to comment on the Resolve report, referring questions to the State Department.

"The United States is aware of and continues to evaluate reports that the LRA has operated in the disputed Kafia Kingi area claimed by both Sudan and South Sudan," said Hilary Fuller Renner, a spokeswoman for the State Department's bureau of African affairs, in a statement. "The United States and the international community as a whole would take very seriously any credible evidence of support or safe haven being provided to the LRA."

Renner added that U.S. officials have discussed concerns about the whereabouts of Kony with all governments in the region, including the government of Sudan.

"We have encouraged Sudan to cooperate with regional efforts to counter the LRA," Renner said. The camp in the disputed Sudanese territory of Kafia Kingi has been periodically used by Kony to take refuge from African Union-approved forces in pursuit of the rebel leader, the report states.

Kafia Kingi, under Sudanese control but also claimed by South Sudan, sits in a remote zone near the Central African Republic, where Ugandan troops have been pursuing Kony. Those troops, however, are not allowed access into Kafia Kingi.

While it appears that Kony abandoned the camp in March, it is likely that Kafia Kingi is still serving as an enclave for the group, according to Resolve.

“The LRA’s abandonment of their camp in Sudanese-controlled territory presents an opportunity for Sudan to definitively cut ties to the group,” said Paul Ronan, Resolve’s director of policy. “International efforts to arrest Kony and stop LRA attacks are likely to fail unless the African Union and regional leaders secure Sudan’s full cooperation.”

The report, which urges the U.S. to pressure Sudan to take action against LRA elements, also recommends that efforts be made to better publicize reward funds of up to $5 million for information leading to the arrest of Kony and other leaders. The rehabilitation of FM radio infrastructure in the Sudanese border region is one way to achieve that, the report states.

vandiver.john@stripes.com
 

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