KAMPALA (Reuters) - Uganda’s government has taken to the Internet to correct a “false impression” about the country it says was created by a U.S. celebrity-backed online campaign to hunt down fugitive warlord Joseph Kony.
Uganda, which is spearheading efforts to find the suspected war criminal whose global profile soared after a YouTube video went viral, wants to show the world Kony is not in the country and it is doing all it can to find him.
Wanted by the International Criminal Court, Kony is accused of abducting children to use as fighters and sex slaves and is said to have a fondness for hacking off limbs.
After founding his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in the 1980s, Kony terrorized large parts of Uganda but his reign of terror has subsided since 2005 and he is now believed to command only a few hundred followers, scattered in remote jungle hideouts in neighboring countries.
“The Kony 2012 campaign fails to make one crucial point clear. Joseph Kony is not in Uganda,” Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi said in a 9-minute video posted on YouTube.
“Uganda is not in conflict. Uganda is a modern, developing country which enjoys peace, stability and security,” he said, insisting that the Kony 2012 video did not represent the current situation in the east African nation.
The video made by California-based film-maker Jason Russell has been viewed by tens of millions of people, promoted on Twitter with tags that include #Kony2012 and endorsed by the likes of Justin Bieber, George Clooney and Oprah Winfrey.
Russell, co-founder of the group Invisible Children, was hospitalized on Thursday for “exhaustion, dehydration and malnutrition,” stemming from the emotional toll of recent weeks, the group said.
San Diego police said they had detained a man “acting bizarrely, running into traffic” and took him to hospital.
Russell’s video became an Internet sensation, racking up nearly 80 million hits on YouTube and raising global awareness about atrocities committed by the LRA, including kidnapping children and forcing them to fight.
Mbabazi said Uganda was on Kony’s trail. “You may all be assured that the Government of Uganda is acutely aware of the grievous damage which has been caused to our people by Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army. We do not need a slick video on YouTube for us to take notice.”
Mbabazi has also taken to Twitter to invite the celebrities targeted by Invisible Children in its video to spread awareness about Kony to come to Uganda and see the country for themselves.
“As PM of Uganda, I invite you to visit the Pearl of Africa & see the peace that exists in our wonderful country,” he wrote in tweets to celebrities, including Ryan Seacrest, Taylor Swift and Warren Buffett using the tag #KonyisntinUganda.
Announcing the creation of a four-nation military force to step up the hunt for Kony on Friday, Uganda’s defense minister said the LRA had been reduced to a force of between 200 and 250 fighters split up into groups of about 10 and 20 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan and the Central African Republic.
Editing by James Macharia and Robin Pomeroy