By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS, May 11 (Reuters) - Fugitive Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony is constantly changing his hideouts as the African Union prepares to expand a U.S.-assisted manhunt for one of Africa's most wanted men, a senior U.N. official said on Friday.
Kony has evaded the region's militaries for nearly three decades, kidnapping tens of thousands of children to fill the ranks of his Lord's Resistance Army and serve as sex slaves as he moves through the bush. Thousands have been killed by his brutal army.
The deployment of U.S. special forces as advisers to help Ugandan soldiers track Kony and his senior commanders in the dense equatorial jungle across a region that spans several countries has raised hopes the sadistic leader's days are numbered.
Three other African countries - the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and the Central African Republic - prepare to join an African Union guerrilla coalition to launch an international manhunt to capture Kony and see that he is put on trial. Kony appears to be increasingly nervous as a result.
"The latest we've received so far is that, contrary to what Kony used to do - to stay one month, two months on the ground - he's now moving almost every other day, which means the pressure is mounting on him," said Abou Moussa, head of the U.N. Regional Office for Central Africa.
"They've found traces of where he's settled," Moussa said in an interview with Reuters and one other newswire. "People who've defected have provided information on his state of mind."
"The pressure must continue," he said, adding that this development was "an excellent thing for us."
Kony was thrust back into the spotlight earlier this year when a video, "Kony 2012", highlighting the chilling mutilations, rapes and murders carried out by his spell-bound fighters went viral on the Internet.
LETTERS FROM SCHOOL CHILDREN
Moussa said that video, which has been criticized for what some have called a misleading and oversimplified portrayal of events in Uganda and for neglecting African initiatives to solve the crisis, has had a positive impact.
"The overall impact has been very positive, since millions of people now are informed about the consequences of what Kony's doing," he said. "I've received letters from school children in Canada, America. It shows you how deep the awareness has gone."
Kony, a self-styled mystic leader who at one time was bent on ruling Uganda by the Ten Commandments, fled his native northern Uganda in 2005, roaming first the lawless expanses of South Sudan and then the isolated northeastern tip of Congo.
In December 2008, after last-ditch peace talks failed, Ugandan paratroopers and fighter jets struck the Lord's Resistance Army's Congo hideouts. Kony slipped through the net, raising suspicions he had been tipped off.
Kony and many of his combatants, estimated to number between 200 and 500, moved north into the Central African Republic, though Moussa said he had information that Kony might have recently slipped over the porous border into Sudan's conflict-torn western Darfur region.
Moussa said he would be urging Khartoum to close its border to Kony. He added that Chad's President Idriss Deby had promised to do try to apprehend Kony if he came into his country.
It was not unclear when the 5,000-strong, four-nation AU manhunt for Kony would be fully under way, Moussa said.
He said the mounting tensions between Sudan and South Sudan and Congo's hunt for renegade General Bosco Ntaganda - who, like Kony, is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes - meant that those two countries have not been able to free up sufficient soldiers yet for the operation.
Moussa said he will present a strategy for dealing with Kony to the U.N. Security Council next month. The strategy will focus not only on the hunt for Kony but also on dealing with the long-term impact his militia's violence has had on the region.
Captions below courtesy of Reuters.
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>