Notorious Warlord Joseph Kony's Fighters Kidnap Dozens in Central African Republic

Village residents and officials said the rebels killed one villager as they pulled off their largest recent kidnapping in the former French colony, where the Ugandan rebel group has entrenched itself as international forces hunt down their leader.
January 13, 2016, 5:40pm
Photos by James Akena/Reuters

The rebel group headed by Joseph Kony, one of the world's most wanted warlords, reportedly killed one villager and abducted dozens more during two raids carried out over the weekend in a remote diamond-producing region of the Central African Republic (CAR).

The weekend violence marks the Lord's Resistance Army's (LRA) largest recent kidnapping in the former French colony, where the Ugandan rebel group has entrenched itself as international forces hunt down their elusive leader. Kony, who founded the group in the late 1980s with the aim of establishing a fundamentalist Christian government, is believed to be hiding out in the undeveloped region along the borders of CAR, South Sudan, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"In the first abduction, they kidnapped 10 people. Six were freed. The others are still with them. In the second abduction, around 20 people were taken and are still with the attackers," said Hervé Omère Fei-Omona, a local government official.

The LRA, which has garnered a reputation for massacring and mutilating civilians as well as abducting children to serve as fighters and sex slaves, also raided a mine on Saturday near the village of Diya, located 600 km (370 miles) east of the capital city of Bangui.

News of the kidnappings did not emerge until Tuesday, due to the remote location of the raids and CAR's poor communications infrastructure, a situation worsened by violence caused by the sectarian and militant clashes that have gripped the country over the last three years.

Local residents said the gunmen wore uniforms and did not speak French or the national language, Sango.

"Those kidnapped went to sell their products at the market in Diya and were kidnapped in order to carry what the LRA had looted in the village," said Gaston Gazale, a local humanitarian worker.

After a military crackdown by the Ugandan government, the LRA left that country about a decade ago and its fighters have roamed across lawless parts of Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and Central African Republic ever since.

Kony has led the LRA with the aim of ousting Uganda's government and replacing it with a system guided by the Ten Commandments. The group, founded in 1986 ostensibly to defend Uganda's Acholi ethnic group, is believed to have abducted some 70,000 children. The LRA is often referred to as a cult; the US government classifies it as a terrorist group.

The United States has been involved in the hunt for Kony for years. George W. Bush sent aid to Uganda and dispatched military advisers to train troops. Barack Obama also sent advisers in 2011, citing the LRA's impact on regional security.

A viral YouTube video put out by the organization Invisible Children in 2012 brought Kony's actions back into the public mindset, with the video urging action to finally detain the leader by the end of that year.

The US continues to back the Ugandan-led regional military's efforts to defeat the rebels, now believed to number just several hundred battle-tested fighters, in addition to Kony and other leaders wanted by the International Criminal Court.

Despite some progress, notably the surrender of senior commander Dominic Ongwen last year, a report leaked from the United Nations at the end of 2015 referenced ongoing concerns over looting and killings by the LRA in CAR specifically.

Ongwen's trial got underway in December in the International Criminal Court at the Hague, where he faces crimes against humanity charges that include murder and enslavement.

Reuters contributed to this report.