UNITED NATIONS — Joseph Kony’s Lord Resistance Army has abducted more than 600 child soldiers and sex slaves over the past two years even as the hunt for the rebel leader intensifies, the UN said Wednesday.
Efforts to trap Kony have been redoubled since the release of an Internet documentary this year which has been viewed more than 100 million times. But a top UN envoy said Kony is pursuing an ever more desperate rampage in the jungles of Central Africa.
Many children abducted by Kony are being forced to kill relatives, Radhika Coomaraswamy, UN special representative on children and conflict, told reporters.
A UN report on the LRA said it had information on 45 children killed and maimed during attacks by Kony’s rebels between July 2009 and February 2012.
At least 591 children, including 268 girls, were seized over the same time in Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic and South Sudan, the report added.
“The actual numbers of abductions is much higher, these are just the ones we are aware of,” Coomaraswamy said.
“These children are used in various roles: as combatants, as spies, as guards, as porters, as cooks. They are often forced to kill their family and friends, especially in the villages that they come from.”
Kony, who launched his rebellion in Uganda two decades ago, is now said to have between 300 and 500 troops — about half of these are children or former child soldiers.
The UN envoy said almost all the girls abducted were raped or forcibly married to combatants. Most of the girls had children born of rape and had AIDS and other illnesses when they escaped or were released.
Kony himself has had child brides, according to Coomoraswamy.
But she added that the number of child killings had fallen and that children were being abducted for a shorter period of time which could be signs that the LRA is in “survival mode”.
Uganda is leading a multi-national African force hunting Kony in DR Congo, Central African Republic and South Sudan. One hundred US Special Forces are advising the troops.
Kony, who is wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court, is having to move nearly every day as the hunt closes in on him, Abou Moussa, UN special representative for Central Africa, said recently.
Grace Akallo, a Ugandan who was abducted from her school by Kony’s group in 1996 and escaped seven months later, told how she had been trained to use an AK-47 rifle and watched friends forced to kill their parents.
“We were the ones sent in the front to fight. The leaders were behind. We were the ones in the battlefield,” Akallo told a press conference held with Coomoraswamy.
“Your bullets are finished — you shoot your friend in order to get their bullets and continue fighting because you know if you retreat you are going to be killed,” she added.
“They are still abducting children, they are still sexually assaulting women and girls,” she added, calling for greater international efforts to catch Kony.
The “Kony 2012″ video by the Invisible Children campaign group this year has brought the hunt to a wider international audience.