Lord's Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony answers journalists'… (Stuart Price / Agence France-Presse…)
Killings of civilians by the notorious militia led by the fugitive Joseph Kony have dropped dramatically in the last three years, according to a new analysis that tracks reports on the group.
The Lord’s Resistance Army has terrorized central Africa for years, eluding international efforts to halt its brutal campaign of mutilations, abductions and slayings. Kony himself is wanted for a long list of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder and forcing children to fight.
Though Kony has continued to evade capture, his militia is leaving fewer deaths in its path, according to a new analysis. The LRA killed 51 civilians last year – a steep drop from the 154 people slain the year earlier and 706 killed in 2010, a joint tracking project by the U.S.-based nonprofits Invisible Children and Resolve found.
The sudden decline appears to have happened because Kony ordered his fighters to minimize killings, the report said, citing militia defectors. Slayings of civilians fell dramatically after Kony and his commanders gathered in the Central African Republic more than a year ago, it found.
The militia, infamous for abducting children to use as soldiers, also appears to be shifting toward kidnapping adults for shorter stints, during which they are forced to act as porters, carrying looted goods, the report found. More than two out of three people abducted last year were adults, more than half of whom escaped or were released within a month.
The report warned, however, that the reduced deaths and reported defections do not mean the LRA is no longer capable of mass killings. The LRA waged “unusually large and brazen attacks” in stretches of the Central African Republic that are beyond the reach of Ugandan troops and U.S. military advisors trying to stop the group, it said.
Thirteen men were massacred in one such attack near the Ngunguinza gold mine, most of them beaten to death with big pieces of wood, in what Human Rights Watch believes was an LRA assault. Hundreds of attacks were also reported in the Democratic Republic of the Congo last year.
The report also sheds light on how the group has continued to operate. Kony has held onto control of the widely scattered group through radios and satellite phones, the report found, and has reportedly promoted younger commanders more loyal to him to cement his control.
Defectors and escapees claim the militia profits from the illegal ivory trade, bolstering its spoils from looting villages and farms, and allege it has been aided by the Sudanese military. In December, the U.N. Security Council called for an investigation into how the LRA was being supplied and financed.
More than 1,100 civilians have been killed by the LRA over the course of roughly three years, according to Invisible Children and Resolve; the U.N. has estimated more than 400,000 people have been displaced across the region as they try to flee the deadly militia.
The destruction wreaked by the militia gained new attention last year through a viral video created by Invisible Children, which has now garnered more than 96 million views on YouTube.
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