By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS, June 6 (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has submitted his first report to the Security Council detailing grave crimes committed against children by Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony and his feared Lord's Resistance Army, the U.N. announced on Wednesday.
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.
Between July 2009 and February 2012, Kony's group kidnapped at least 591 children - 268 girls and 323 boys - mostly in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as in South Sudan and the Central African Republic (CAR), the report said.
"Children reported that they were used in various capacities, as cooks, porters, guards, spies or directly in hostilities as combatants or human shields," Ban said.
"Girls who spent a substantial period of time associated with the group reported to have been subject to sexual slavery and exploitation, including by being forcibly 'married' to combatants. Some children were forced to use violence, including to kill their friends or other children in the armed group."
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 - Congo, South Sudan and the CAR - are preparing to join an African Union guerrilla coalition to launch an international manhunt to capture Kony and see that he is put on trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, which has issued a warrant for his arrest.
The United Nations has said that Kony appears to be increasingly nervous as a result and is changing his location every few days now.
"The LRA continues to cast a long shadow across Central Africa, causing enormous suffering for children," U.N. special representative for children and armed conflict Radhika Coomaraswamy told reporters.
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 CAR, though the U.N. has said it has information that Kony might have recently slipped over the porous border into Sudan's conflict-torn western Darfur region.
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. (The full U.N. report on Kony's Lord's Resistance Army can be found here: http://www.un.org/Docs/journal/asp/ws.asp?m=S/2012/365) (Reporting By Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Andrew Hay)
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>