KAMPALA (Reuters) - Uganda has suspended the hunt for fugitive warlord Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army fighters, blaming hostility towards foreign troops by Central African Republic rebels who seized power last month.
About 100 U.S. special forces helping with intelligence and logistical support also called off operations temporarily, a U.S. embassy official said, but it was not immediately clear if troops from other countries in the regional force were also giving up the search.
Kony is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes. He and his commanders are accused of abducting thousands of children to use as fighters in a rebel army that earned a reputation for chopping off limbs as a form of discipline.
Uganda provides more than 3,000 troops of a 5,000-strong African Union force hunting Kony and his fighters, thought to be hiding in jungles straddling the borders of Central African Republic, South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo.
A separate coalition of rebels in Central African Republic, known as Seleka, toppled President Francois Bozize last month. They swept into the capital Bangui in a lightning offensive which triggered days of looting and drew international condemnation.
The Seleka rebels also killed 13 South African soldiers during their attack on Bangui.
“These rebels have been openly hostile to us and following that, the president (of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni) has ordered us only to be in defensive positions,” said Dick Olum, head of Ugandan troops in the force hunting Kony and also the overall force commander.
“So we’ve temporarily suspended offensive operations against the LRA for now until we receive further orders,” he told Reuters on Wednesday.
Crane Elise, U.S. embassy information officer in Kampala, said U.S. special forces had “temporarily paused the operations against LRA to give us time to consult with our partners.”
Uganda’s Daily Monitor newspaper had quoted her saying the consultations would be with the State Department, but Elise amended those comments, telling Reuters she had been misquoted.
LRA fighters fought the Ugandan government for nearly two decades before being ejected from their strongholds in the north of the country in 2005, forcing them to establish bases in the jungles of other countries in the region.
Children’s rights groups urged the Ugandan and U.S. governments to keep their pledges to hunt down Kony.
“In spite of what is happening in CAR, we are reminding decision makers - both in Uganda and the US - to uphold commitments they have previously made towards bringing to an end the LRA conflict,” said Michael Mubaginzi, the regional public relations and advocacy officer for Invisible Children Uganda.
Editing by James Macharia and Mike Collett-White