U.S. special operators and African forces have been unsuccessful in a years-long search for Joseph Kony, the infamous leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army in the Central African Republic. Now, the U.S. Treasury is providing an assist to these efforts to take down the guerrilla group, which has killed about 100,000 people and kidnapped tens of thousands of children since the late 1980s.
On Tuesday, the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control announced it has frozen the U.S.-based assets of Salim Kony and Ali Kony, sons of Kony and senior officers in the LRA. The OFAC has had sanctions against the eldest Kony since 2008, including new penalties in March of this year that freeze any LRA assets within U.S. jurisdiction and prohibit Americans from engaging in any financial transactions with the group.
“Today’s action, which targets the finances of the LRA and its leaders while also combating their participation in the global illicit ivory trade, is the latest in a collaborative international effort to address the widespread violence in the Central African Republic,” John E. Smith, OFAC acting director, said in a statement.
The penalties are part of a broader U.S. campaign to take down the LRA and find the notorious Kony, whose cult-like group is largely comprised of child soldiers that formerly operated in northern Uganda and elsewhere in east and central Africa. He’s been indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, but has eluded capture. There is a $5 million reward for information on his whereabouts.
He became a recognizable figure in the United States thanks to a 30-minute documentary titled “Kony 2012” meant to draw attention to his crimes. The film failed to acknowledge the fact that Kony was no longer in Uganda, and the atrocities it documented occurred well in the past.
Still, after the film received widespread attention, U.S. special forces were sent to CAR in 2012 to help African troops find Kony. To date, their efforts have been unsuccessful.
One of Kony’s top conspiring warlords, Dominic Ongwen, surrendered to Dutch soldiers in CAR in 2015. He was recruited as a child soldier, but rose through the army’s ranks to become one of the most wanted men connected to the group. He is awaiting trial at the ICC. His defense lawyers will argue that because he was kidnapped as a child, he should be forgiven for some of the atrocities he allegedly committed while serving in the LRA.
The new U.S. sanctions are meant to disrupt the LRA’s activity in the illicit ivory trade. It is unclear, however, how much money Salim and Ali have in banks or other financial institutions that fall under American jurisdiction.