African envoy: Reports indicate LRA's Kony is ill

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UNITED NATIONS (AP) - The African Union envoy in charge of pursuing the Lord's Resistance Army said Wednesday that many reports indicate its notorious leader Joseph Kony is seriously ill and on the run along the borders of Sudan's western Darfur region and the Central African Republic.

Ambassador Francisco Madeira told reporters after briefing the U.N. Security Council that the nature of Kony's illness isn't known.

He said Central African Republic President Michel Djotodia, who formerly led the rebel Seleka movement, told him that he and "his people" have been in contact with Kony, and "they want to encourage him to surrender."

The LRA, which originated in Uganda in the 1980s as a popular tribal uprising against the government, has waged one of Africa's longest and most brutal rebellions. Its fighters are accused by the U.N. and human rights groups of cutting off the tongues and lips of innocent civilians and kidnapping thousands of children and forcing them to be soldiers and sex slaves.

Military pressure forced the LRA out of Uganda in 2005, and the rebels scattered across parts of central Africa. The LRA insurgency and the Ugandan government's response have left at least 100,000 people dead, and the Security Council said in 2011 that more than 440,000 people across the region displaced.

Madeira said pressure from the regional task force _ some 3,000 African troops supported by about 100 U.S. military advisers _ has led to "a good number" of defections by Kony's followers. He said he expects the number of defections to increase, eventually leaving Kony only with top LRA commanders who along with him are wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.

"Definitely he's no longer at peace, and he's feeling the pinch thanks to the pressure that the regional task force is putting on him," Madeira said.

Madeira also said he and Abou Moussa, the U.N. special representative for Central Africa, have been engaging with the Central African Republic's president to make sure that whatever his troops, and the rebel groups, are doing strictly respects human rights and ends the killing and looting that have left the country in a state of near-anarchy.

Moussa said he and Madeira want to confirm that some elements of the LRA were in contact with some officers from the Central African Republic because "some indications that were given to us" never materialized _ namely that the LRA was going to regroup on Oct. 3 and surrender on Nov. 3.

Madeira speculated that perhaps Kony's "uncharacterized illness" is leading him to the idea "to have his people surrender en masse or looking at the possibility of settling in Central Africa, and things like that."

"What he has been telling people is ... that's how he might end up _ whereby his own people would just be surrendering or appearing or disintegrating, and he would just vanish because he may not be contemplating to hand himself over to the ICC," Madeira said.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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