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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 July 2006, 08:57 GMT 09:57 UK
Profile: Ugandan rebel Joseph Kony
By Anna Borzello
Former BBC correspondent in Uganda

Joseph Kony
Kony: He blames the army for all the atrocities

Joseph Kony, the leader of the notorious Lord's Resistance Army, is a mysterious, even mythical, figure.

He has been called a bandit, a terrorist, a prophet, and a madman.

He last appeared in public at the failed peace talks of 1994 - his entrance heralded by robed men sprinkling holy water.

But in his first television interview, broadcast last week, a relaxed Joseph Kony looked like any African guerrilla fighter.

"I am a human being, just like you," he said.

Healer

Kony, an ethnic Acholi, was born into a peasant family in Odek village, Gulu district in the early 1960s.

His contemporaries describe him as a quiet boy who loved dancing.

After leaving primary school, he became a traditional healer.

This was a turbulent time in Uganda's history. President Yoweri Museveni seized power in 1986, and many Acholis revolted.

The most dramatic rebellion was led by Kony's relative, spirit-medium Alice Lakwena, who said she was fighting to purify the Acholi people.

Her hymn-singing troops reached within 100km of the capital, Kampala, before they were defeated by the government army.

Violence

Kony, who had no military experience, joined a unit of another rebel group, the UPDA. This soon evolved into the Lord's Resistance Army, with Kony at its head.

Ugandan night commuter (photo: Jake Price)

The LRA was initially popular, but as support waned, the rebels turned against the local population.

The violence escalated after 1994, when the Sudanese government backed the LRA in retaliation for Ugandan support for Sudanese rebels.

The fighting has devastated the region. Civilians have been maimed, killed and displaced into squalid camps.

More than 20,000 children have been abducted since the war began, and forced to become soldiers and rebel wives.

Those who escape, and are captured, are killed.

Kony has "married" at least 50 girls. He is said to prefer them educated. Many have borne him children.

Cult

It is not clear why Kony is fighting. Much of the north is anti-government.

But while this explains the LRA's emergence, the group rarely articulates the region's grievances, beyond opposition to President Museveni.

Victim of Lord's Resistance Army
The Lord's Resistance Army is known for its brutality
Kony calls himself a "freedom fighter". But it is difficult to square this with his methods. Perhaps he enjoys the status?

Kony also says he wants to restore the Biblical Ten Commandants, and create a "new generation" of Acholis.

He speaks the language of both traditional religion and Christian belief, and uses the Bible to justify LRA atrocities, including abduction.

Kony is said to be visited by 13 spirits. Some are Ugandan, others Sudanese, Chinese, American, Italian and Korean.

Former abductees speak of Kony with respect. He has the authority and mystique of a cult leader, and a majority believe that he can see the future.

They describe him as a teacher, and talk of his herbal remedies for Aids, malaria and infertility.

They mention his sociable nature, but also his unpredictable moods, particularly when he is seized by spirits.

They say he is kind to women and children, and that he never kills - only gives the order.

Mr Museveni dismisses Kony as a "bandit". But he has kept the Ugandan army on the defensive for two decades, and dented the president's international image.

Kony's decision to grant an interview to a foreign journalist is strategic.

The Sudanese government no longer gives him support. His force has been weakened.

And the International Criminal Court want him prosecuted for crimes against humanity.

Now, Kony says, he is ready to talk peace.

It is a significant move, but it is not decisive - not least because the Ugandan government is obliged to send him to The Hague for trial if they catch him.

The self-styled prophet has made his own predictions about the end of the war.

Kony told his senior commanders he is like Moses, and will never see the promised land.

And he prophesised that in 2006, a 12-year-old boy will emerge to lead the region into peace.




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