Hunt for Kony raises fears over safety of child 'bodyguards'

 

Attempts to capture Joseph Kony, the Ugandan warlord who is the target of an internet campaign demanding that he face justice, may lead to the killings of child soldiers he uses as his bodyguards and would thus be opposed by the United Nations.

A video by a group called Invisible Children focusing on the atrocities of the militia commander, who operates in South Sudan, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic, has been watched by around 100 million viewers and sparked huge international publicity as well as growing controversy.

Women's and children's welfare groups have protested that the images being passed around worldwide have rekindled traumatic memories and unsettled efforts to bring combatants, especially young ones, back into society.

Radhika Coomaraswamy, the UN's special representative to tackle children and armed conflict, said yesterday: "We know that he uses child soldiers and military actions may mean that they would be harmed, injured or they may die; so we would be against this.

"There are schemes which have proved to be highly successful in integrating child soldiers back into society and these are the kind of solutions we should follow rather than acts which may result in these children being harmed.

"I am not an expert on military missions, but I do think that in the case of Kony we have to be very careful about military or vigilante acts to capture him, precisely because some of his victims are child soldiers who he has recruited."

The 30-minute video, "Kony 2012", has sparked a campaign for action by the international community with a global viewership of more than 100 million. But people in the region affected by Kony's militia have stressed that it has been counter-productive and even damaging.

Ruth Ojiambo, the executive director of Isis-Women's International Cross-Cultural Exchange, said in Kampala: "While the idea of this campaign against the LRA [Lord's Resistance Army] leader is welcome, the steam it has created overshadows the real concerns of the sufferers and survivors of this conflict in Uganda."

The narrator of the video, 33-year-old Jason Russell, has been hospitalised after witnesses saw him running through the streets of San Diego in California in his underwear, screaming and banging his fists on the pavement.

Ben Keesey, Invisible Children's chief executive, said he was suffering from exhaustion, dehydration and malnutrition.

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