- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 25, 2012

RIVER VOVODO, CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC — For Ugandan soldiers tasked with catching Joseph Kony, the real threat is not the elusive Central African warlord and his brutal gang.

Encounters with the Lord's Resistance Army rebels are so rare that Kony hunters worry more about the threats of the jungle: armed poachers, wild beasts, honeybees, and even a fly that torments their ears.

A soldier crossing the Chinko River in the Central African Republic last Wednesday was drowned and mauled by a crocodile, spreading terror among hundreds of soldiers who must camp near streams because they need water to cook food.

“A crocodile has just taken one of my men,” said Col. Joseph Balikuddembe, the top Ugandan commander of the anti-Kony force

He contorted his face, walked to a map and pointed to Chinko, one of several rivers that the Kony hunters have been stalking in hopes that the LRA might be there looking for water.

But it is dry season these days, and the rivers are teeming with hungry crocodiles.

A tough trek

Last week’s crocodile attack was the second in two months, highlighting the perils of trying to catch a rebel leader about whom so little is known and who could be anywhere in this vast Central African jungle.

There have been no signs of Kony in a long time, and the soldiers whose goal it is to catch him are in fact more likely to be killed by elephants and snakes whose paths they cross. Even honeybees can be a serious menace when they are migrating.

Soldiers told an Associated Press reporter who traveled with them through the jungles about a tiny black fly that persistently hovers around and even enters their ears, reducing their capacity for concentration.

The soldiers can be seen shaking their heads violently, or desperately slapping their ears, but the flies keep coming in huge numbers. The soldiers look forward to night, when the flies go away.

A crocodile attack last month on the banks of the Vovodo River left a soldier with horrific injuries all over his body. He was later taken into intensive care in a Ugandan hospital.

“The man just survived that crocodile,” Col. Balikuddembe said. “It grabbed his leg and he poked it in the eyes. Then it left him, and as he ran away it came for his arm, then his buttocks.”

Most Ugandan soldiers here remain hopeful that Kony, who last month became the focus of international attention after a U.S. advocacy group made a successful online video seeking to publicize his crimes, can still be caught despite the challenges.

Invisible Children’s campaign wants 2012 to be the year Kony is caught, and the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor has said he thinks Kony will be arrested soon.

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