By Elias Biryabarema
KAMPALA, March 9 (Reuters) - Uganda said on Friday it would catch Joseph Kony dead or alive, after a video spotlighting the atrocities of his Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) swept the Internet and drew a wave of international support.
The LRA is notorious for violence including hacking body parts off victims and abducting young boys to fight and young girls to be used as sex slaves. Kony and his fighters were driven out of northern Uganda in 2005 after terrorising communities for nearly two decades.
"All this hoopla about Kony and his murderous activities is good in a sense that it helps inform those who didn't know the monster that Kony is. But of course, this is too late," Uganda's defence ministry spokesman Felix Kulayigye told Reuters.
"It might take long but we'll catch Kony, dead or alive. How many years did it take to end the conflict in Northern Ireland? So our hunt for Kony can take long but it will end one day," he said.
The 30-minute YouTube video, by a little-known team of filmmakers based in San Diego, made an emotional appeal for the U.S.-backed Ugandan armed forces to capture the LRA leader by the end of this year.
By Thursday, it had been viewed almost 40 million times, while Tweets about Kony had become the No. 1 trending topic worldwide on Twitter.
"NO SILVER BULLET"
Kony fled northern Uganda to roam the dense forests of Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic and South Sudan. Attempts to corner him and his rump LRA force, believed to be 200-300 strong, have failed.
In a renewed push to bring Kony to justice, U.S. President Barack Obama sent 100 U.S. military advisers to the region last year to help Ugandan forces track down the self-declared mystic.
U.S. troops have set up small base in the Central African Republic, where Ugandan soldiers are also operating, though the latest reports suggest Kony is now in neighbouring Congo.
In January 2006, eight Guatemalan "Kaibil" Special Forces soldiers from the U.N. mission in Congo were killed in a botched operation against the LRA in Congo's Garamba National Park.
In late 2008, the United States backed Ugandan-led air strikes and a ground attack on LRA camps in Congo.
These too failed as the LRA leadership slipped into the bush, seemingly after being tipped off, and unleashed a retaliatory killing spree that left thousands dead.
According to Matthew Green, author of a book about the hunt for Kony, The Wizard of the Nile, his units were highly organised and armed with recoilless rifles, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, VHF radios and satellite phones.
Green says escaped LRA child soldiers he interviewed expressed contempt for the Ugandan army as a fighting force.
"Much as they might like to grab Kony, the Ugandan military and other armies in the region have repeatedly proved that they lack the necessary helicopter, logistical and intelligence-gathering capabilities," Green told Reuters.
"U.S. forces could get the job done, but there would have to be a remarkable shift in the political calculus in Washington for them to consider a kill-or-capture mission."
Fred Opolot, Director of the Ugandan government's Media Centre said the LRA leader was operating in "some of the most difficult terrain anyone can imagine".
"People who are thinking it's taking long to eradicate the LRA menace need to appreciate the overwhelming geopolitical complexities involved in the hunt for these guys," Opolot said.
Ned Dalby, Central Africa analyst for the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, said geographical, logistical and political realities severely complicated the hunt for Kony.
He said the armies of South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic were poorly-equipped, lacked professionalism and had discipline problems.
The U.S.-backed Ugandan army spearheading the hunt for the fugitive LRA leader was more professional, but were not being allowed to enter Congolese territory for now, Dalby said.
The Americans were "no silver bullet", he said.
The independent research group Small Arms Survey said there had been at least 12 raids by the LRA in northeastern Congo in the first two weeks of February.
People in the isolated southeastern town of Obo in Central African Republic said Kony and his men lived concealed in the forests. "They're more at home there than the animals," said Mauricio Gueyi, a local driver.
Ugandan officials lamented that the video did not mention the fact that Kony had long since left Uganda.
"This video gives the impression that there's a continuing war in northern Uganda which is absolutely false," said Opolot.
"These deliberate omissions make the motives of this video suspect. Could it have been for propaganda purposes, or raising money, for whatever reason?"
In northern Uganda, residents also expressed a range of views about the video.
"This ability of Kony to still commit crimes out there worries us as people of northern Uganda ... the man is still capable of coming back here and terrorising us again," said Charles Akena, 30, a social worker in the northern town of Gulu.
Sam Lawino, 33, thought the film was "both bad and good".
"It's good because its tries to depict the crimes that Kony has perpetrated in Northern Uganda," he said.
But he added: "In my opinion the video will end up reopening the wounds of the several victims who are now trying to heal and start new lives." (Additional reporting by Pascal Fletcher in Johannesburg, David Lewis in Dakar and Paul Marin-Ngoupana in Bangui; Writing by David Clarke; Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Andrew Roche)
Self-proclaimed mystic Kony began one of a series of initially popular uprisings in northern Uganda after President Yoweri Museveni seized power in 1986. But tactics of abducting recruits and killing civilians alienated supporters.
The LRA is infamous for kidnapping children for use as soldiers, porters and "wives". Although there are no universally accepted figures, the children are believed to number many thousands. Some are freed after days, others never escape. <br> <em>Trauma counselor Florence Lakor, right, listens to 16-year-old Julius, as he tells of the two years he was forced by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) to live as a guerrilla fighter in Sudan and Uganda. (AP)</em>
Tens of thousands of people have been killed in the 21-year war. A landmark truce was signed in August 2006 and was later renewed. But negotiations brokered by south Sudanese mediators have frequently stalled.
The cessation of hostilities has been largely respected, but the guerrilla group has said it will never sign a final peace deal unless the International Criminal Court drops indictments against its leaders for atrocities. <br> <em>Uganda's Interior Minister Ruhakana Rugunda, right, and the head of the government peace talk delegation exchanges documents with the leader of the Lords Resistance Army peace talks delegation Martin Ojul, left, after signing a ceasefire agreement at State House in Kampala, Uganda, Saturday, Nov. 3, 2007. (AP)</em>
Kony's force was once supported by the Khartoum government as a proxy militia, although Sudan says it has now cut ties with the LRA. Kony left his hideouts in south Sudan in 2005 for the Democratic Republic of Congo's remote Garamba forest. <br> <em>Map shows areas in Africa where the Lord's Resistance Army has had a known presence in the past year. (AP)</em>
Many northerners revile Kony for his group's atrocities, but also blame Museveni for setting up camps for nearly 2 million people as part of his counter-insurgency strategy, fuelling one of the world's worst humanitarian crises. <br> <em>Internally displaced people line up to receive food provided by the World Food Programe, Thursday, June 15, 2006 at the Pabbo camp outside Gulu, northern Uganda. (AP)</em>
Kony has said he is fighting to defend the Biblical Ten Commandments, although his group has also articulated a range of northern grievances, from the looting of cattle by Museveni's troops to demands for a greater share of political power. <br> <em>Joseph Kony, leader of Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army, second right, and his deputy Vincent Otti, right, are seen during a meeting with a delegation of Ugandan officials and lawmakers and representatives from non-governmental organizations, Monday, July 31, 2006 in the Democratic Republic of Congo near the Sudanese border. (AP)</em>