Uganda troops have captured 19 Lord's Resistance Army rebels in Central African Republic (CAR), the African Union said, a sizeable victory in the hunt for the elusive rebel group.
The Ugandan army is leading a US-backed African Union force tasked with capturing the LRA's leaders, several of whom are wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
The "19 members of the LRA belonging to the group commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Obur Nyeko, alias Okuti, defected and reported to a detachment of the Ugandan contingent," on December 6, the African Union said in a statement released late Tuesday.
The fighters surrendered with their guns and ammunition, it added.
Last month the United Nations Security Council expressed concern that chaos in CAR could disrupt the hunt for LRA rebel chief Joseph Kony, who is blamed for 100,000 deaths in a two-decade rampage through the region.
Wanted on war crimes
Kony, who launched a rebellion in Uganda two decades ago, is wanted by the International Criminal Court along with fellow top commanders on war crimes and crimes against humanity charges including murder, sexual slavery and using child soldiers.
Since August 2013, AU troops have "rescued a number of civilian abductees, destroyed several LRA camps in CAR and in Democratic Republic of Congo, disrupted the group's logistical networks and diminished its fighting capacity," the statement added.
CAR's presidency said last month it has attempted to negotiate the surrender of the rebels. Some African Union officials said, however, that this was a ploy by Kony to buy time and move his fighters.
Long driven out of Uganda, LRA fighters now roam remote forest regions of CAR, Sudan, South Sudan and DR Congo.
Last month the LRA attacked five villages in South Sudan's Western Equatoria province, killing three people and looting food and medical supplies, and forcing several hundred to flee, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a report.
The attacks were the first reported in South Sudan since August 2011.
"An offensive launched against LRA bases in the Central African Republic in October may have pushed the LRA eastwards in search of supplies," the UN report added.