Uganda confirms man held by US forces is top deputy of LRA's Kony
January 7, 2015
U.S. forces in Africa have taken custody of a man calling himself a top rebel commander in the notorious Lord’s Resistance Army, a small but resilient group that has terrorized parts of central Africa for two decades.
U.S. officials on Tuesday said a man calling himself Dominic Ongwen — widely believed to be a top deputy to LRA leader Joseph Kony — turned himself in to U.S. troops stationed in the Central African Republic.
“Efforts to establish full and positive identification continue, so I don’t have confirmation of that at this point,” Jen Psaki, State Department spokeswoman, told reporters. “If the individual proves to be Ongwen, his defection would represent a historic blow to the LRA’s command structure.”
On Wednesday, however, Ugandan officials said a positive identification had been made.
“I can confirm that he is the one. We have duly identified him,” Lt. Col. Paddy Ankunda, a spokesman for the Ugandan army, told The Associated Press. “There is no doubt about his identity.”
In 2011, President Barack Obama ordered 100 U.S. special operations forces into central Africa to work alongside African Union troops who are leading the hunt for Kony and other LRA members. Much of the support has focused on intelligence, training and logistical support.
However, another key part of the effort also has centered on encouraging members of the rebel group to abandon Kony and turn themselves over to international authorities. The U.S. military along with nongovernmental groups, such as Invisible Children, have engaged in various campaigns, including mass leaflet drops, to encourage defections in the LRA ranks.
For example, in 2012 there were 33 defectors, many of whom cited the leaflets and loudspeaker messages as influencing their decision, U.S. Special Operations Command Africa officials said in early 2013.
U.S. Africa Command on Wednesday declined to comment on the latest developments.
At its peak, the LRA had about 2,000 fighters but is now believed to be a force of about 250, operating in remote parts of Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan. The group, which is known to fill its ranks with abducted children to serve as slaves and soldiers, has been on the run in recent years. Ongwen, according to various media reports, was abducted as a 10-year-old on his way to school in northern Uganda. He subsequently rose through the LRA ranks and is today wanted, along with Kony, by the International Criminal Court.
“ It is clear that despite the regional challenges, the AU regional task force continues to make great strides toward ending the LRA threat,” Psaki said.