The Central African Republic says it is negotiating the surrender of warlord Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) who is the subject of a U.S.-aided manhunt, but the Obama administration said Thursday it has “little reason to believe” the Ugandan rebel is part of the talks.
“The United States is aware that Central African Republic authorities have been in contact for several months with a small Lord's Resistance Army group in CAR that has expressed interest in surrendering,” a State Department official said on the condition of anonymity. “At this time, we have little reason to believe that Joseph Kony is part of this group.”
“The president said he had spoken by telephone with Joseph Kony who wants to lay down his arms,” government spokesman Gaston Mackouzangba told The Associated Press. “The negotiations are ongoing.”
Kony is wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. The Obama administration has offered a $5 million reward for information leading to the arrest of Kony and two of his top lieutenants, Okot Odhiambo and Dominic Ongwen.
In April, U.S. and Ugandan officials put military operations to nab Kony on hold after Seleka rebels overran the country, overthrew President Francois Bozize and took over the capital, Bangui.
Kony previously has used lulls in fighting and negotiations to relocate his rebels and replenish their ranks.
“Many times in the past, Joseph Kony and his senior commanders have used — and we believe will continue to use — any and every pre-text to rest, regroup and rearm, ultimately returning to kidnapping, killing, displacing and otherwise abusing civilian populations,” the State Department official said.
Michael Poffenberger, executive director of the anti-LRA advocacy group The Resolve, said an LRA group represented by a mid-level commander has been engaged in dialogue with local authorities in Nzako since August.
“There has been no concrete evidence that [Kony] is in any way associated [with the talks],” Mr. Poffenberger said. “Furthermore, there is concern that this group is only using this as an opportunity to gain food and supplies for the LRA, which they have now been given by the CAR authorities.”
“The AU Regional Task Force must maintain the current momentum and continue its operations against all LRA groups,” the official said.
Nearly 100 men, women and children have left the LRA since 2012, and the U.S. military advisers encourage and facilitate such defections.