African Union seeks international help for forces fighting Kony's LRA

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - The African Union has called for international military support for soldiers in the Central African Republic fighting warlord Joseph Kony after the United States and Uganda said they would withdraw troops from the hunt for the insurgents.

In March, Washington said it would start pulling out its roughly 100 military personnel who have been providing the African forces tracking Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) with intelligence, logistics and other support, saying the insurgents had been weakened.

The African forces are made up of soldiers from Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and Central African Republic (CAR) and Uganda, although the latter has also begun withdrawing troops, saying the mission had been successful in “neutralizing” Kony’s LRA.

The rebel leader has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity and remains at large.

The African Union’s Peace and Security Council (PSC) said on Friday that the LRA still posed a threat.

“The LRA ... maintains the potential to rejuvenate itself, particularly, if the security vacuum following the withdrawal of the Ugandan People’s Defence Forces and the U.S. Special Forces is not urgently filled,” it said in a statement.

The PSC “requests the (AU) Commission to engage with the CAR authorities and other AU member states, as well as with partners to assist in training, equipping, mentoring and sustaining of at least two FACA battalions and four armed police units, to enable them to assume a greater responsibility,” it said, referring to CAR’s troops.

For nearly two decades, the LRA battled Ugandan soldiers from bases in the north of the east African country and across the border in South Sudan. They were notorious for their brutality and for kidnapping children for use as fighters and sex slaves.

In 2005, they were ejected from those bases and retreated to a lawless patch of jungle straddling the borders of South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo and CAR.

In the statement, the PSC said it had extended by 12 months the mandate of its force in the area, known as the Regional Cooperation Initiative for the Elimination of the Lord’s Resistance Army.

Despite announcing its decision to pull troops out, the United States has said it would maintain training for the regional forces to prevent warlord Kony’s rebels from regrouping.

Editing by George Obulutsa and Hugh Lawson