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LRA poaching ivory as Kony hunt intensifies

By Tim Witcher

UNITED NATIONS (AFP) - Lord's Resistance Army rebels are killing elephants for ivory to raise cash as an international hunt for their leader intensifies, diplomats and activists said Tuesday.

While nations believe they have LRA chief Joseph Kony on the run in the jungles of Central Africa, the Ugandan-origin rebels are still causing deadly chaos in several countries.

The LRA has turned to ivory trafficking and also extended its area of operations, a UN Security Council meeting was told.

"There are credible reports of the LRA poaching elephants in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and illegally trafficking ivory," said Jeffrey DeLaurentis, a deputy US ambassador.

Most poaching has been reported around the Garamba National Park in DR Congo, according to the rebel-tracking Resolve group.

One woman who escaped the LRA in April reported that rebels in Garamba "were ordered by Kony to kill elephants and send their tusks to him," said a recent Resolve report.

Park rangers reported finding three dead elephants and having confiscated tusks from suspected LRA forces after a battle, the group added.

Resolve's advocacy director Paul Ronan told AFP there have been other reports since, mainly from other defectors from Kony's band, whose notoriety was brought to a global audience this year by the Invisible Children video.

The LRA has waged a fierce insurgency across four countries for the past two decades, becoming infamous for mutilating victims and abducting children for use as sex slaves and soldiers.

This year, the LRA has carried out attacks as far west as Bangassou in Central African Republic, where scores of men, women and children were abducted in September.

The LRA gets most of its supplies from looting isolated farming communities. "They don't use a lot of money," said Ronan.

They have also attacked military units in countries where they operate to get weapons and ammunition. LRA rebels raided a French-run uranium mine in Central African Republic in June and stole computers, food and cooking supplies.

Kony is believed to be in Central African Republic or near its border with Sudan, according to Ronan and diplomatic sources.

The UN says about 450,000 people have been displaced by LRA attacks in DR Congo, Central African Republic, Uganda and South Sudan.

The number of LRA attacks is said to be down in 2012.

But Ronan said: "Because the LRA is so unpredictable in where they will attack next, really until Kony is captured or killed, the psychological impact that he has on these hundreds of thousands of people in the affected areas will remain huge."

The United States has 100 special forces advising regional armies hunting Kony. Resolve and other non-government groups say the UN and governments could do more to blunt the LRA threat.

Laurentis, the US envoy, said the LRA has been weakened and pushed out of many areas and defections are rising as air drops of leaflets and more radio appeals are made.

But he said Kony "remains a vicious and persistent menace" in Africa.

"With UN leadership, we must together develop a common operating picture of the LRA's positions in the region and target its logistics networks," Laurentis said.

Britain called for leaders in LRA-affected countries to hold a special summit to refine the military hunt for Kony by their militaries. France also said the regional force must be given priority.

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