Warlord Joseph Kony is continuing to lose his tyrannical grip on the Central African Republic after nearly 20 soldiers in the region defected from the brutal guerilla leader's army.
The defection is the single largest since 2008, when the Lord’s Resistance Army first moved into the region, and is considered a massive victory in efforts to counter the militia group and a blow to its command structure.
The 19 defectors included male soldiers as well as adult females and six children. Among the group were a lieutenant and a lieutenant colonel named Okello Okutti, who was abducted by the LRA in 1989.
“This is the single largest LRA defection in five years and is more evidence that the comprehensive strategy to stop the LRA is working,” said Ben Keesey, CEO of Invisible Children, a San Diego based NGO that has waged an international campaign to bring Kony to Justice. “It required the collaboration of all partners to achieve this huge victory,” he said in a statement.
According to officials at Invisible Children, a fisherman from the small village of Tabane was approached by the group while fishing on the bank of a river Dec. 6.
The group emerged from the bush with their weapons over their heads and called out to the fisherman in Swahili, explaining who they were and asking him to take them to the Ugandan military.
The fisherman took them across the river in his boat to an area operator for Invisible Children’s Early Warning Network, who called the Network’s Hub in the city of Obo, where the group was transported via helicopter.
Once in Obo, the group was debriefed by African Union forces and U.S. advisers as well as Invisible Children staffers. The refugees also identified another group possibly looking to defect.
They also told officials in Obo they got the idea to defect after seeing fliers dropped for the past year by Invisible Children as well as listening to the NGO’s shortwave radio station in the region.
“A defection of this size represents a significant portion of the LRA’s remaining fighting force,” said Adam Finck, Invisible Children’s Director of International Programs in a statement. “This is a huge win for the AU forces, along with the U.S. advisors and civil society groups working to restore peace in the region.”
Invisible Children had set out to create an activist campaign to bring down the dictator after co-founder Jason Russell saw the LRA's destruction first hand while filming a documentary in the Sudan and meeting children affected by the LRA.
Invisble Children is best known for creating a viral video called KONY 2012. The video was made to promote the charity group’s "Stop Kony" campaign .
The film was posted on video websites in March 2012 and instantly trended, reaching more than 100 million views in less than a week, making it one of the fastest viral videos ever.
Kony, one of the world’s most infamous war criminals, has used his LRA to decimate villages across the Congo region and abducted and tortured young children, sometimes forcing them to be soldiers against their will. Since Kony’s exploits have been brought to the world's attention, there has been a 57% decrease in abductions.
A recent report claimed that attacks by the LRA have dropped by more than half since 2012, and another report from August suggests that many of the LRA combatants are becoming increasingly disillusioned with Kony due to his failure to maintain contact among the fragmented group.