KINSHASA (Reuters) - Ugandan rebel leader Joseph Kony has returned to eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Congolese and Ugandan officials said, complicating U.N.-backed efforts to stabilise the region.
Kony, head of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) that is believed to have killed, kidnapped and mutilated tens of thousands of civilians since the 1990s, entered Congo from Central African Republic about a month ago, Ugandan military spokesman Felix Kulayigye said on Monday.
Eastern Congo, rich in minerals deposits, is home to several militant groups including the Rwandan FDLR rebels accused of mass rapes and killing villagers.
Kony and his several hundred fighters had left Congo a few years ago for the wild and largely lawless border regions of Sudan and Central African Republic after U.N.-backed Congolese operations targeted him.
Kulayigye said the Ugandan army was supporting new efforts by the Congolese army and U.N. forces to tackle the LRA, which has killed at least 35 people and kidnapped more than one hundred in Congo since the beginning of this year.
LRA soldiers are believed to have entered Congo before Kony.
“We can’t specify which particular village, but he is within Orientale province. We’ve tracked him all along, that’s why we know he is there,” Kulayigye said, adding that Kony had crossed the border in late February or early March.
Congolese Information Minister Lambert Mende said he was aware of Kony’s return and the armed forces were trying to find him. “He has escaped from Central Africa last month and we are determined to finish him in Congo,” he said.
Kulayigye, who declined to say how many Ugandan troops were involved in operations against Kony’s forces, said the LRA had failed to move into Sudan and the majority of its fighters — around 200 — were now in DRC.
The LRA, which says it is a religious group, first emerged in northern Uganda in the 1990s but was driven out by Ugandan military operations. Although the LRA is thought to number just a few hundred, its mobility and the difficulties of the terrain have made them difficult to tackle.
Attempts to negotiate peace failed in 2008 after Kony, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court, refused to sign a deal to bring an end to the killing.
“The agreement is still there for him to sign, even if today he wants to sign we’ll allow him,” Kulayigye said.