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Hunting Kony

Little is known about the elusive character who was overnight catapulted to the status of the world's biggest villain thanks to the viral Kony 2012 campaign. But who is Joseph Kony?

Born in the early 1960s in Odek, a village east of Gulu, Uganda, he is remembered as a friendly boy by one of his former class mates at Odek Primary: "He played football and was a brilliant dancer."

He is believed to be the cousin of Alice Lakwena, a former prostitute who formed the Holy Spirit Movement in 1986.

This group represented the Acholi people who felt excluded from power after the overthrow of the northern leader, Milton Obote, by the current president Yoweri Museveni.

Ms Lakwena promised her followers immunity from the bullets of the Ugandan army, but Mr Museveni's troops defeated her movement in 1988 and she fled to Kenya.

After this defeat, Mr Kony founded his own rebel group which over the next two decades went on to abduct thousands of children to become fighters or sex slaves.

He claims that his Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) movement has been fighting to establish a government in Uganda based on the Biblical Ten Commandments.

But his rebels now terrorise large parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and the Central African Republic.

Regional armies are trying to hunt them down with the help of 100 US soldiers and he is wanted for war crimes, kidnapping and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

He is also on Interpol's Wanted Persons list, where his profile says he is 1.8 metres tall and speaks Acoli, English and Arabic.

Mr Kony was due to sign a peace deal with the Ugandan government in 2008, but peace talks faltered when the LRA leader wanted assurances that he and his allies would not be prosecuted.

Kony as a mystic
Mr Kony, a former Catholic altar boy, has been described as an "an apocalyptic Christian" and sees himself as a spirit medium.
Young abductees, who have escaped from the LRA, say that Mr Kony would tell them he got his instructions from the Holy Spirit in his dreams and would often preach in tongues. He directs his rebel forces from these messages, which are recorded by his scribes.

The rebel leader has created an aura of fear and mysticism around him. He prays within concentric circles drawn in ash or pebbles and has a choir of young girls, some dressed as nuns, to sing his praises.

Soldiers are sometimes required to pray waist-deep in water, and abide by arbitrary fast days. Anyone breaking the rules can be killed for bringing curses on the entire group.

His rebels follow strict rules and rituals: "When you go to fight you make the sign of the cross first. If you fail to do this, you will be killed," one young fighter who escaped from the LRA told Human Rights Watch.

"You must also take oil and draw a cross on your chest, your forehead, and each shoulder and you must make a cross in oil on your gun. They say that the oil is the power of the Holy Spirit."

Mr Kony appears to believe that his role is to cleanse the Acholi people.

He uses biblical references to justify his army's killings against his own people, since they have - in his view - failed to support his cause.

"If the Acholi don't support us, they must be finished," he told one abductee.
Kony's LRA

Kony's methods of warfare are notorious, especially since the Kony 2012 campaign went viral. Children are kidnapped, forced to kill their own parents, then march with the LRA, beaten, shamed and brutalised until they finally become fighters themselves.

Teenage girls are used as sex slaves and the LRA commanders frequently claim them as their "wives".

Most of the Lord's Resistance Army is made up of abducted children, some of whom have grown to up in its ranks.

Kony's brutality against his own people, the Acholi tribe of northern Uganda, has outraged the international community.

In the mid-1990s, the government began arming some of the Acholi communities in order to protect themselves from LRA attacks. A betrayed Kony and the LRA retaliated, cutting off the ears and noses of anyone they considered traitors in those villages.

"Kony trusts no one," said Florence Lakor, a counsellor at the World Vision camp for children who have escaped the LRA. "If a man comes to him and says he wants to join the LRA, he is suspicious that he is a traitor, and will usually have him killed. He prefers to get children, who he can control more."

As a result, at least 25,000 children have been abducted since the LRA started fighting the army in northern Uganda 25 years ago.

Sources: SBS News, ICCC, Interpol, BBC, The Independent, Globalpolicy.org


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