KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) - Ugandan troops in the Central African Republic have killed the chief bodyguard of Joseph Kony, the fugitive head of the Lord's Resistance Army, a Ugandan army official said Monday.
Ugandan Col. Felix Kulayigye said the bodyguard, a rebel commander known only as Binani, was among a small group of rebels when he was killed in a firefight Friday 280 kilometers (175 miles) north of Djema, a base in the Central African Republic where Uganda-led African Union troops are being advised by U.S. special forces. It was not clear if Kony, a self-styled mystic who has eluded capture for more than two decades, was part of the group of rebels that fled the attack in which Binani was killed, Kulayigye said.
"He was a member of the LRA high command," Kulayigye said of Binani. "He was Kony's chief bodyguard and he was also the LRA's main logistician."
Kulayigye said it is unfortunate that Binani was not captured alive. He might have shared information on Kony, a cruel rebel leader whose whereabouts are unknown, Kulayigye said.
Kony, whose rebellion originated in Uganda before spreading to other parts of Central Africa, was indicted by the International Criminal Court in 2005 for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Last year he became the focus of international attention after the U.S. advocacy group Invisible Children released a popular online video highlighting LRA crimes and calling for Kony to be stopped from recruiting children.
Ugandan officials believe Kony may be hiding in a place called Kafia Kingi, along the volatile Sudan-South Sudan border.
The LRA, which used to have several thousand men, is now seriously degraded and scattered in small numbers in Congo, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic. Only about 200 LRA rebels are still active in the jungle, according to the Ugandan military, but they can conduct hit-and-run operations that terrorize villagers. They move across the region's porous borders in small groups that are hard to detect in dense jungle, and are difficult for military forces to eliminate from a jungle the size of France.
LRA watchdog groups such as the Enough Project say it will be hard to eliminate the LRA's top leaders without more troops on the ground as well as greater investment in human and aerial intelligence. Last year the LRA killed 39 civilians in Congo and the Central African Republic, according to a report by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon published late last year.
About 2,500 African Union troops hunting for Kony and other LRA commanders are assisted by 100 U.S. military advisers. The U.S. has spent $30 million every year since 2008 on the LRA mission, including on supplies such as fuel for helicopters, according to Daniel Travis, a U.S. Embassy spokesman in Uganda.