KAMPALA The Ugandan military said on Wednesday it has begun withdrawing troops from Central African Republic where it had been pursuing rebel leader Joseph Kony and his Lord's Resistance Army, saying it has accomplished its mission - although Kony remains at large.
Uganda has been leading a U.S.-supported African Union regional task force tracking the LRA and Kony, who has been indicted by the Hague-based International Criminal Court. But it has been unable to capture him.
For nearly two decades the rebels battled the government of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni from bases in the north of the country and across the border in what is now South Sudan.
They were notorious for their brutality and for kidnapping children for use as fighters and sex slaves.
In about 2005, they were ejected from those bases and retreated to a lawless patch of jungle straddling the borders of South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic (CAR), where the task force continued to track them.
"The LRA capacity and means of making war against Uganda have been degraded. Senior key commanders ... have over the years been killed, captured or surrendered," the military said in a statement. It said Kony now had only about 100 fighters.
The military said its decision to pull out was spurred by "the realization that the mission to neutralise the LRA has now been successfully achieved."
The first of its troops landed in the northern town of Gulu on Wednesday, it said.
In total, Uganda had deployed about 2,500 troops for the anti-LRA operations, with most of them deployed in eastern CAR. A smaller contingent was based in South Sudan.
About 100 U.S. military personnel have provided the anti- LRA operations with intelligence, logistics and other support. It was not immediately clear whether the U.S. would also terminate its mission.
(Editing by George Obulutsa and Hugh Lawson)