"Kony 2012" group tipped off Uganda to wanted ex-rebel: Wikileaks

Reuters News

4/11/2012 5:49:52 PM - Reuters News

By Mary Slosson

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The group behind the viral "Kony 2012" video that drew world attention to Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony tipped off Ugandan forces in 2009 to the whereabouts of a former child soldier wanted by the Kampala government, according to a classified U.S. cable published by Wikileaks.

Invisible Children, which shot to prominence last month when its video on Kony and his brutal Lord's Resistance Army drew more than 100 million hits on social media, told Ugandan officials that a man wanted by security forces was staying with the group in the northern Ugandan city of Gulu, the cable showed.

Patrick Komakech, the former child soldier who was featured in Invisible Children documentaries and said to have been abducted by Kony's rebels at age 9, was immediately arrested, according to U.S. document, posted in a database of classified cables published by Wikileaks.

"Komakech had confessed to being part of a new anti-government movement in the north," the 2009 State Department cable said. "Komakech reportedly gave the locations of several arms caches... with a total of 600 weapons."

The "Kony 2012" video, the latest in a series of documentaries by the group, has been hailed for inspiring young people to activism.

But the video has also been criticized for what some have called a misleading and oversimplified portrayal of events in Uganda, and for neglecting African initiatives to solve the crisis as well as opening up old wounds.

Invisible Children took another hit when the maker of the Kony 2012 film, Jason Russell, suffered a public meltdown last month that doctors described as a brief psychotic breakdown.

The group released a follow-up video last week pushing back against the criticism that has been leveled at it. The new video includes more African voices and context on the long-running conflict involving Kony in several African countries. It was released before April 20, which has been planned as a day of action.

WORKED WITH ANOTHER REBEL GROUP

The cable about Komakech, transmitted in 2009 from the U.S. Embassy in Kampala, said he had been working with the People's Patriotic Front, a resistance group whose objective was the overthrow of the Ugandan government.

Before his arrest, Komakech had also been engaged in child soldier rehabilitation efforts with non-governmental organizations including Invisible Children.

"In 2009, Invisible Children was contacted by a member at the U.S. Embassy in Kampala regarding Patrick Komakech, a former LRA combatant who Invisible Children had been supporting in attempts to assist with his personal recovery and academic development," a spokeswoman for Invisible Children said in an e-mailed statement.

The group said it had been brought to its attention that Komakech and a group of others were "allegedly involved in activities that could be jeopardizing the lives of civilians and putting the organization and its staff at risk."

"Invisible Children was deeply saddened to learn of these allegations; the organization was cooperative in providing information to the U.S. Embassy regarding the nature of our relationship with and academic support to Mr. Komakech. In light of the severity of these allegations, the organization severed all ties immediately with Mr. Komakech," the statement said.

The diplomatic cable indicates Komakech was likely released by Ugandan security forces after interrogation because he was a "low-level operative."

Komakech visited the United States in 2007, when he was 25, for a bike ride across Iowa to bring attention to the plight of child soldiers who had been abducted and forced to fight for the LRA, according to an interview he gave in July 2007 to the Des Moines Register.

Kony's guerrilla band captured him when he was 9, and by age 16 he was a battalion commander with the LRA, according to the Des Moines Register. He eventually escaped.

"They have never been to school. But they know how to shoot; they know how to kill," Komakech told The Des Moines Register. "If they don't have enough to eat, what do you expect they will do?"

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Christopher Wilson)