WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A man identifying himself as Dominic Ongwen, a senior commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army, gave himself up to U.S.-African forces tracking the guerrilla group in the Central African Republic, the State Department said on Tuesday.
The United States is trying to verify whether the man in its custody is Ongwen, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
“In coordination with the AURTF (African Union forces), U.S. military forces took custody of an individual claiming to be a defector from the LRA. That individual later identified himself as Ongwen,” Psaki said.
“Efforts to establish full and positive identification continue, so I don’t have confirmation of that at this point,” Psaki added.
She said that if the man in custody is Ongwen, his defection would “represent a historic blow to the LRA’s command structure.”
U.S. forces have supported a regional task force of African troops since 2011 to track down LRA leader Joseph Kony, wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in a guerilla war in Uganda and neighboring countries.
LRA fighters are known for using extreme violence, including chopping off limbs as a form of punishment, as well as raping young girls and abducting them for use as sex slaves.
The Washington-based human rights group Enough Project said Ongwen was abducted by the LRA at the age of 10 while on his way to school and quickly rose in its ranks. In 2005, the ICC indicted Ongwen on seven counts, including crimes against humanity and murder, pillaging and enslavement, according to the Enough Project.
“As part of the LRA’s core command, his surrender is a very significant step in the efforts to bring a final end to the LRA,” said Kasper Agger, Enough Project’s expert on the LRA.
Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Peter Cooney and Will Dunham