March 24, 2012 / 3:18 PM / 7 years ago

African Union launches U.S.-backed force to hunt Kony

JUBA (Reuters) - The African Union (AU), backed by the United States, has put together a 5,000-strong military force to hunt down fugitive warlord Joseph Kony, whose profile has shot up following a celebrity-backed campaign against him.

African Union Special Envoy for the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) Francisco Madeira (L) flanked by Head of the United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA) Abou Moussa addresses a news conference in Entebbe, 35KM (22 miles), Southwest of Kampala, Uganda’s capital, March 23, 2012. REUTERS/Edward Echwalu

Kony, accused of terrorizing northern Uganda for two decades, is wanted by the International Criminal court for war crimes. He is accused of leading a group that abducted children to use as fighters and sex slaves and hacked off living victims’ limbs as a method of intimidation and revenge.

A video about Kony posted on YouTube by a California film-maker has been viewed by tens of millions of people, promoted on Twitter with the hashtag #Kony2012 and endorsed by major Hollywood celebrities.

The AU force aims to coordinate soldiers already hunting for Kony from South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Central African Republic (CAR) and Uganda with logistical and intelligence help from Washington.

In October, U.S. President Barack Obama said he was sending 100 military advisers to the four countries involved in the new AU force.

“The Americans are playing a pivotal role in some aspects,” AU special envoy Francisco Madeira said on Saturday.

“They support us militarily, they support us with equipment, they support us with military advice, they support us even with intelligence and training,” he told reporters at its launch ceremony in the South Sudanese capital Juba.

He gave no details on the troops’ strategy.

The force will be headquartered in Yambio in South Sudan near the border to the DRC. Units will be also based in Dungu in the DRC and Obo in the CAR, officials said.

U.N. Central Africa envoy Abou Moussa said the force had to capitalize on the high level of global pressure on Kony.

“We need to take advantage of the high level of interest, goodwill and political commitment to finally put an end to this crime.”

LRA violence in the region has subsided since 2005 when the LRA was ejected from Uganda and now Kony is believed to command only hundreds of followers, scattered in jungle hideouts.

Reporting by Hereward Holland; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Ben Harding

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