The Ugandan army said Wednesday it has neutralised the Lord’s Resistance Army, as troops began withdrawing from the Central African Republic where they had been hunting the group’s feared leader Joseph Kony.
“The decision to withdraw was premised on the realisation that the mission to neutralise the LRA has now been successfully achieved,” Ugandan army spokesman Brigadier Richard Karemire said in a statement.
The army said that Kony now commands fewer than 100 fighters and has been left “weak and ineffective.”
Kony “no longer poses any significant threat to Uganda’s security,” said Karemire.
Thirty-one soldiers landed in an airfield in Gulu, northern Uganda, on Wednesday, with more to follow, according to local media reports.
A self-styled mystic and prophet, Kony launched a bloody rebellion three decades ago seeking to impose his own version of the Ten Commandments on northern Uganda.
The UN says the LRA has slaughtered more than 100,000 people and abducted 60,000 children since it was set up in 1987.
The LRA was forced out of Uganda in 2006 and has since roamed the remote forests on the borders of South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo and the CAR.
Ugandan troops have operated in the strife-torn eastern part of CAR since 2009 searching for LRA fighters terrorising the area.
“The Ugandan military operation, with the assistance of US military advisors, has played an important role in degrading the LRA, especially in encouraging defections of LRA members,” said Washington-based researcher Ledio Cakaj, author of “When the Walking Defeats You”, a book about Kony’s inner circle.
However, Cakaj said that while Kony is still at large the threat to the local civilian population remains.
“Local security forces in CAR have shown in the past their inability to provide security for civilians, and the vacuum left by the withdrawal will likely be exploited by the LRA and other predatory groups”, he told AFP.
At the end of March the US military announced that its forces, which have been deployed in the hunt for Kony in eastern CAR since 2011, would be removed from counter-LRA activities in the impoverished nation.