The African Union has said it will deploy a 5,000-strong military force to hunt down the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.
The force – with troops from Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and the Central African Republic – will be led by Uganda where the LRA, headed by Joseph Kony, abducted and massacred civilians in a decades-long armed rebellion.
The AU announced the launch of the force after Kony’s global profile shot up recently thanks to a celebrity-backed internet campaign to bring him to justice.
A video about Kony posted on YouTube by a California film-maker has been viewed by tens of millions of people, promoted on Twitter with the hash tag #Kony2012 and endorsed by major Hollywood celebrities.
Francisco Madeira, the AU’s special envoy for the LRA, said the force would be based in the South Sudan city of Yambio, close to the border with the DRC.
Addressing reporters in the Ugandan lakeside city of Entebbe after a meeting which brought together AU, United Nations and Ugandan officials, Madeira said the troops would be deployed in jungle areas where Kony and his fighters are known to be at work.
Asked how long the force would be operating, Madeira said: “When we capture Kony or he hands himself in or we neutralise him in some way, that will be the end. That’s the timeframe.”
A hundred US military advisers deployed to Uganda were already helping to capture Kony, but the task force needed more international support, Uganda’s defence minister said last week.
Kony, whose rebel army has terrorised northern Uganda for two decades, is accused of abducting children to use as fighters and sex slaves.
Violence has subsided since 2005 when the LRA was ejected from Uganda and now Kony is believed to command only hundreds of followers, scattered in jungle hideouts.
Meanwhile, the man behind the video sensation, Jason Russell, remains in hospital in California after suffering what doctors described as a brief psychotic breakdown.
Videos posted online showed him pacing back and forth on the sidewalk, naked, in broad daylight, in an incident certain to raise questions over the viability of Russell’s Invisible Children group.
“You always hear people say, ‘I’m so stressed out, I’m about to go crazy,'” said Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University.
“Still, the story of all this happening and then he literally is wigging out is very odd.”
He said the episode could serve to divert attention from the warlord to Russell. “Now whenever you see a Kony story, it’s about the guy, not Kony.”