NAIROBI, Kenya - The United States is looking for ways to ensure the hunt for wanted warlord Joseph Kony continues in Central African Republic despite a change in leadership in the country that has forced the search to be suspended, a State Department official said Thursday.
The U.S. announced a new $5 million reward for information leading to the arrest of Kony, the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army, a small but brutal band of warriors who abduct children and adults as fighters and sexual slaves.
There are 100 U.S. special forces helping advise African forces across Central African Republic, South Sudan, Congo and Uganda. But rebels in CAR deposed the president and took the capital, Bangui, more than a week ago, and African and U.S. efforts to hunt Kony there have since been put on pause.
Stephen J. Rapp, an ambassador-at-large for the State Department's Office of Global Criminal Justice, sounded optimistic that an agreement could be reached to allow the hunt to continue. Rapp said the rebels in the new government also don't want to see Kony in their country and are looking to eliminate the threat Kony brings "within the next six months."
"So I think we're going to have the potential for support for operations there," he said in a telephone conference with reporters. "Operations there have been paused. People there haven't been withdrawn. Work will go on to make sure that operations can go on. It's in the interest of the CAR and in the interest of all the people in the region."
Because the rebels in Central African Republic took power by force, kicking the president out of the capital, the U.S. has restrictions on the cooperation and activities it can carry out with the new leadership. The African Union has voted not to recognize the rebels as the leaders of the country.
Rapp suggested that maybe Ugandan and U.S. forces in CAR will be able to work with local police, "but we'll see. It's all the more important that negotiations ... succeed. On this issue I think there's broad common ground. Everyone wants to see the end of the threat of Joseph Kony."
Along with the reward for Kony, the Obama administration announced up to $5 million in rewards for two of Kony's top aides and for a Rwandan rebel leader suspected of crimes against humanity.
The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Kony in 2005 for his brutal campaign that originated in Uganda in the 1980s. He became better known in the U.S. after the release in March 2012 of a video called "Kony 2012" by the charity Invisible Children. The video became an internet sensation, being viewed by more than 100 million people.
The rewards are being offered by the State Department under a provision in the War Crimes Rewards Program authored by Secretary of State John Kerry when he was a senator and signed into law by President Barack Obama in January.
Rapp said the reward could discourage others from engaging in brutal acts. He said they remind wanted criminals that "the world will continue to look for you."