Washington: Washington is trying to verify reports that a senior commander of the brutal Lord`s Resistance Army has surrendered to American forces, a US official said Tuesday.
According to the United Nations, the LRA led by violent warlord Joseph Kony has killed more than 100,000 people and kidnapped more than 60,000 children in almost three decades in central Africa.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters that a man claiming to be senior LRA leader Dominic Ongwen had defected, and was in custody of US forces deployed in the hunt for Kony in the Central African Republic.
"If the individual proves to be Ongwen, his defection would represent a historic blow to the LRA`s command structure," she said.
"Efforts to establish full and positive identification continue, so I don`t have confirmation of that at this point," Psaki said.
The United States has offered USD 5 million for the capture of Kony, who is also wanted by the International Criminal Court along with Ongwen and two other lieutenants.
The ICC issued an arrest warrant for Ongwen in 2005 on charges of three counts of crimes against humanity and four of war crimes.
According to LRAcrisistracker.com, set up by two non-governmental organisations to map atrocities by the LRA, Ongwen was himself a child-soldier abducted as a 10-year-old while on his way to school.
He rose rapidly through the organisation`s ranks, becoming a major at 18 and a brigadier by his late 20s.
But he has reportedly had a volatile relationship with Kony.
The LRA first emerged in northern Uganda in 1986, where it claimed to fight in the name of the Acholi ethnic group against the regime of President Yoweri Museveni.
But over the years the LRA has roved across the porous borders of the region.
It moved from Uganda to sow terror in southern Sudan before shifting to northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, finally crossing into southeastern CAR in March 2008.
Combining religious mysticism with an astute guerrilla mind and bloodthirsty ruthlessness, Kony has turned scores of young girls into his personal sex-slaves while claiming to be fighting to impose the Bible`s Ten Commandments.
In March, Washington sent extra commandos and tilt-rotor Osprey aircraft to Uganda to help African Union forces hunt down Kony.
US-based campaign groups The Resolve LRA Crisis Initiative and Invisible Children said in a November report that Kony is believed to have sought refuge in Kafia Kingi, an enclave controlled by Sudan.