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African Union to coordinate fight against LRA rebels


ENTEBBE, Uganda (AFP) - The African Union said Friday it was boosting coordination of regional armies hunting down the Ugandan Lord's Resistance Army rebels led by international fugitive Joseph Kony.

"What's going to change is that we will have better intelligence and better coordination," said Francisco Madeira, AU special envoy to end the LRA insurgency.

Kony's rebels are notorious for a grim campaign of rape, mutilation and murder, kidnapping boys to serve as child soldiers and girls to act as sex slaves.

Troops from countries affected by the rebels -- Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic and South Sudan -- are already battling the LRA, but the AU plan will help coordinate the multi-nation drive.

"The Peace and Security Council of the AU has authorised this force," Madeira told reporters, adding that the Ugandan army will lead the coordination of some 5,000 troops, a move supported by the United Nations.

Kony has recently drawn world attention after a half-hour Internet film by US-based advocacy group Invisible Children calling for him to be caught this year was watched by tens of millions of people worldwide.

Uganda already has several thousand troops operating in the jungles of Central African Republic, where Kony is thought to be hiding.

The new taskforce will have its headquarters in South Sudan's western town of Yambio -- near the border with the Central African Republic and DR Congo -- and be led by a Ugandan commander, while a Congolese commander will oversee intelligence coordination.

Madeira said it was yet to be decided if force commanders would be in operational command of soldiers from other nations.

"That is an issue that is still under discussion...there are still a number of issues to clarify," Madeira said.

In terms of funding, Madeira said that the countries involved would remain responsible for covering the costs for their operations, but that the AU had received commitments from unspecified international partners to help.

Officials said the increased effort was not a reaction to the success of the Internet video.

"This plan has been emerging since last year, so it is not something that has developed overnight," said Abou Moussa, head of the United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa.

Since Uganda launched a raid on Kony's bases in neighbouring DR Congo in late 2008, the hunt for the elusive rebel chief has been hampered by friction between the regional armies.

Last year, US President Barack Obama sent 100 special forces to help hunt down Kony. The troops have set up a base in the Central African Republic.

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