Following reports that the leader of the Ugandan Lord's Resistance Army rebels may be hiding in a Khartoum-controlled region of Darfur in Sudan, a researcher for the Washington-based Enough Project says it is still not clear where he is. There is concern that LRA forces are preparing to launch attacks in South Sudan during next month's national elections.
Last Saturday, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said intelligence reports indicated that the Lord's Resistance Army rebel leader, Joseph Kony, recently fled Central African Republic and had joined a group of LRA forces hiding in south Darfur.
A few days earlier, the anti-genocide group Enough Project reported that in late 2009, an LRA reconnaissance team went to Darfur to make contact with the Sudanese army in Kafia Kingi, near the border with Central African Republic. The group said that it has since learned that a contingent of LRA fighters is in Darfur under the protection of the Khartoum government.
The Sudanese government called the Enough Project report "outrageous" and denied Joseph Kony nor any other member of the Lord's Resistance Army were finding safe haven in Darfur.
The Kampala-based researcher for Enough, Ledio Cakaj, acknowledges that the LRA leader, who has evaded capture for more than two decades, remains as elusive as ever.
"Kony could be anywhere. Having spoken to the Ugandan military intelligence services, I have found out that the military intelligence is not sure what happened to Kony, said Cakaj. "There was a belief that he tried to go into south Darfur. But it is very likely that he turned south. And we have heard - I would say fairly credible reports - he might have even crossed into Congo last week, close to Bas-Uele in Province Orientale," Cakaj added.
The Lord's Resistance Army was formed in northern Uganda in the late 1980's as a religious movement. But under Kony's leadership, the group morphed into an armed criminal gang, best known for committing unspeakable atrocities against civilians - many of them children - in Uganda.
In the 1990s and the first few years of this decade, the Lord's Resistance Army is also believed to have been a proxy militia for the Sudanese government in its 21-year war with South Sudan.
Cakaj says reports that Kony may be in a region of Darfur controlled by the Sudanese army has convinced authorities in South Sudan that LRA fighters will be called upon again by Khartoum -- this time to disrupt the country's first multi-party elections in 24 years due to begin on April 11. Voters in the South are expected to unite against the ruling party and incumbent Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.
"Kony himself, in an interview in 2005, admitted to having been given supplies by the Khartoum government. And there is the fear that that kind of connection and cooperation never really ceased," said Cakaj.
The Ugandan government has alternately tried to kill Kony and to offer a peace deal. The rebel leader has refused to sign a peace pact with Kampala because of International Criminal Court arrest warrants issued in 2005 against him and several of his lieutenants. The Court requires the Ugandan government to turn the fugitives over to The Hague immediately upon capture or surrender.
In recent years, the Lord's Resistance Army has become a regional menace, terrorizing and killing countless civilians in eastern Congo, Central African Republic and the border regions of Sudan.