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Ugandan-led Rebel Group Steps Up Attacks in Central Africa

FILE - Fighters loyal to the Lord's Resistance Army pose with their rifles inside the forest near River Mbou in the Central African Republic in this handout picture dated April 4, 2012.

A Ugandan-led rebel group operating in Central Africa abducted 498 civilians and killed 17 others in the first half of this year, a watchdog organization said Wednesday, suggesting a resurgence of the group whose leader is the target of an international manhunt.

The attacks by the Lord's Resistance Army happened mostly in the eastern part of Central African Republic and in northern Congo, according to the LRA Crisis Tracker, which monitors the activities of the rebel group.

Members of the LRA, including leader Joseph Kony, are the subject of an international manhunt that includes U.S. troops. Kony is wanted by the International Criminal Court.

FILE - Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord's Resistance Army
FILE - Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord's Resistance Army

The LRA is notorious for abducting children who then become fighters or sex slaves.

In the new report, the LRA Crisis Tracker says an order by Kony led to dozens of new child abductions and that a poaching group has returned to Congo's Garamba National Park. Another watchdog, the Enough Project, reported last year that the LRA is slaughtering elephants for their ivory, which the group trades for supplies in Sudanese-controlled territory.

The increase in LRA violence comes as Uganda considers withdrawing troops deployed in Central African Republic from an African Union force, saying the rebels no longer pose a threat to Uganda.

Among the LRA abductees in eastern Central African Republic this year were 65 children, 39 of whom remain in captivity or are otherwise unaccounted for, it said.

The LRA, which originated in Uganda in the 1980s, had been in decline over the years amid defections of senior commanders and the killings of others. One commander, Dominic Ongwen, was captured last year in Central African Republic and handed over to the ICC.