The United States has offered bounties of up to $5m each for fugitive Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony and some of his top aides in the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebel group.
The announcement on Wednesday came just as Uganda and Washington said they had been forced to suspend their two-year hunt for Kony in the jungles of the Central African Republic, after rebels seized power in Bangui.
The US State Department said Kony, along with aides Okot Odhiambo and Dominic Ongwen, had been cited under the department’s newly expanded War Crimes Rewards Programme.
Under the programme, the State Department offers rewards for information leading to the arrest, transfer, or conviction of such fugitives.
The LRA “for almost 20 years has tormented and terrorised children across Uganda, the DRC, the Central African Republic and South Sudan. It has to stop”, John Kerry, the US secretary of state, said.
He admitted Kony and his cronies would “not be easy to find”.
“The LRA is broken down into small bands of rebels, scattered throughout dense jungle, hidden by dense canopy, controlling territory through tactics of fear and intimidation,” he said in a column in the Huffington Post.
The LRA was “one of the world’s most brutal armed groups”, Stephen Rapp, ambassador for Global Criminal Justice, told reporters, unveiling the rewards.
Kony, who was ejected from Uganda along with his rebel group in 2005, is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes.
The warlord and a few hundred followers are now believed to roam the remote jungle straddling the borders of South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic.
His guerrillas are accused of abducting children to use as fighters and sex slaves, and of hacking off victims’ limbs as a method of intimidation and revenge.
Kony was the subject of a film, Kony 2012, with a campaign entitled “Stop Kony”, by non-governmental organisation Invisible Children.
The online viral campaign last year has been watched by almost 100 million viewers on YouTube.
“Thanks in part to last year’s Kony video about the LRA, [crimes committed by Kony are] a reality that millions of Americans now know,” said Kerry.
Others named on Wednesday by the State Department under the programme are Sylvestre Mudacumura, leader of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda.
It also cited nine fugitives from the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.