The Central African president insisted on Friday he was negotiating with Joseph Kony after Washington rubbished claims the wanted Ugandan militia boss was personally involved in any talks.
Michel Djotodia is in contact with Kony, one of the world’s most elusive war criminals, over the fate of the children and women enslaved by his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), presidency spokesperson Guy-Simplice Kodegue said.
Kony has been wanted since 2005 by the International Criminal Court for a raft of crimes against humanity – including rape, murder, sexual enslavement and child enlistment – that have earned him a reputation as one of the most brutal rebel leaders in recent history.
The 50-year-old’s health is believed to have deteriorated after years on the run in some of Africa’s most hostile regions but it was not immediately clear if the purported talks were part of a broader surrender deal.
“There are stateless children, women, elderly people” with Kony and his men, Kodegue said.
The LRA started a quarter century ago as a northern Ugandan insurgency battling Yoweri Museveni’s regime.
But it has since become a multinational mercenary and extortionist gang sowing terror in a vast area straddling the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and South Sudan.
The group is known for abducting civilians after looting their villages and killing off any resistance, using them as porters and sex slaves.
“All this has led the Central African authorities, first among them the president, to consider a phase of negotiations,” Kodegue said.
Djotodia, whose country has been sliding into chaos since he seized power in a March coup, is himself under increasing pressure from the international community, including the United States.
He announced at a political meeting in Bangui on Thursday that he was personally in contact with the elusive Kony, whom he said “wants to come out of the bush”.
But the United States, which has spearheaded the hunt since an Internet rights campaign went viral last year and thrust Kony into the international spotlight, quickly moved to cast doubt over Djotodia’s assertion.
US officials said that while the embattled Central African leader may have been in talks with some LRA-affiliated fighters trying to cut a deal, there was no reason to believe Kony was directly involved in any negotiations. – AFP