Juba, March 30, 2013 (FH) -  The recent seizure of power by rebels in the Central African Republic is the latest challenge facing an African Union mission to track down the Lord’s Resistance Army in the region, says the AU special envoy on the LRA, Francisco Madeira.

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“The rebels [in CAR] have been occupying some of the areas where our forces have been operational,” Madeira told leading South Sudanese radio station Radio Miraya on Friday. “We’re not interested to confront them for the time being, because we’re not looking for them, we’re looking for Kony. And the other element is that the FACA troops, the former government troops, they need to be re-engaged in the new circumstances, the new conditions. And thirdly, the new authorities must come out very clear as to where they stand on this regional initiative.”

The AU launched a mission last year to coordinate the efforts of four countries – Uganda, South Sudan, DR Congo and the CAR -- to hunt down the LRA rebels of Joseph Kony in the region.

The LRA, originally from northern Uganda, has been terrorizing civilian populations in the region for years, killing, looting and abducting children.  Kony and two of his top commanders have been under arrest warrants from the International Criminal Court since 2005. 

The AU’s anti-LRA mission, based near the South Sudanese town of Yambio, currently has 5,000 troops pledged, of which 3,350 are operational. Some 100 military advisors from the US are also assisting the governments of the region in tracking the LRA.

Of the operational troops, 2,000 are from Uganda, 500 from DR Congo, 500 from South Sudan and 350 from the CAR. Another 500 from South Sudan are ready to be deployed. But the 350 CAR troops were sent by the government of François Bozizé, who fled his country in the rebel assault on the capital, Bangui. As Madeira says, their current status is now unclear.The African Union has suspended the CAR in the wake of the rebel takeover and announced sanctions on the rebel leaders. But Madeira says it is still important to engage them.

“This is not a new thing within the African Union,” Madeira told Radio Miraya. “We have been suspending and putting under sanctions many African individuals. But this does not impede us from having pragmatic contacts to solve concrete problems with these forces and rebels.”

The new CAR situation is just one of the problems cited by Madeira in the AU’s mission against the LRA. The other main challenge, he says, is lack of communications and transport capacity in difficult terrain, to allow it to respond quickly to intelligence information.

Nevertheless, he says LRA forces have been defecting and others have been killed. The Americans are helping, he says, and the AU is organizing a donor conference in Addis Ababa on April 24 to raise more funds to improve the mission’s capacity.

LRA leader Kony and two of his commanders, Okot Odhiambo and Dominic Ongwen, are wanted by the ICC for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Uganda. Two other LRA commanders were also indicted in 2005 but have since died or are thought to be dead. The charges against Kony include murder, rape, sexual enslavement, forced enlistment of children and inhumane acts of inflicting serious bodily injury and suffering.