DJEMA, Central African Republic - An Internet campaign that has gone viral aims to capture the notorious rebel leader Joseph Kony, but Ugandan foot soldiers who have spent years searching for the man are starting to ask a question their top commanders prefer to ignore: Is it possible he is dead?
Ugandan army officials say the Lord's Resistance Army leader is alive and hiding somewhere within the Central African Republic. Rank-and-file soldiers, however, say intelligence on Kony is so limited that if he dies, or is already dead, his foes might never know and could wind up chasing a ghost through this vast Central Africa jungle.
In interviews last week with an Associated Press reporter who trekked with them in the jungle, soldiers in one of many Kony-hunting squads said their task in the Central African Republic could no longer be described as a manhunt. The soldiers, who requested anonymity for fear of punishment, said for years there has been no LRA presence in the areas they patrol.
The soldiers are growing increasingly disillusioned, complaining of boredom and having to carry around heavy guns they never expect to use.
"Our commanders don't want you to know the truth," one of them said on the banks of the Vovodo River, his colleagues nodding in approval. "They want to keep us here, but up to now our squad has never come across any rebels."
Kony, an enigmatic rebel leader who has lived in the bush for the last 26 years, last month became the subject of intense international focus after the U.S. advocacy group Invisible Children made a popular online video purporting to make him famous. He has been silent since 2008, when the Ugandan army raided his forested base in northeastern Congo.
Ugandan officials say the LRA, which has no more than 200 men scattered in small groups all over Central Africa, is hard to eliminate completely because the jungle is where the rebels are most comfortable. Last year President Obama sent 100 troops to help regional governments fight the LRA. The Americans play an advisory role in Uganda, the Congo, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic, countries that have been affected by the LRA over the years.