C.Africa insists president 'negotiating' with Kony

The Central African president insisted Friday he was negotiating with Joseph Kony after Washington rubbished claims the wanted Ugandan militia boss was personally involved in any talks.

Michel Djotodia is in contact with Kony, one of the world's most elusive war criminals, over the fate of the children and women enslaved by his Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), presidency spokesman Guy-Simplice Kodegue said.

Kony has been wanted since 2005 by the International Criminal Court for a raft of crimes against humanity -- including rape, murder, sexual enslavement and child enlistment -- that have earned him a reputation as one of the most brutal rebel leaders in recent history.

The 50-year-old's health is believed to have deteriorated after years on the run in some of Africa's most hostile regions but it was not immediately clear if the purported talks were part of a broader surrender deal.

"There are stateless children, women, elderly people" with Kony and his men, Kodegue told AFP.

The LRA started a quarter century ago as a northern Ugandan insurgency battling Yoweri Museveni's regime.

But it has since become a multinational mercenary and extortionist gang sowing terror in an area straddling the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and South Sudan.

The group is known for abducting civilians after looting their villages and killing off any resistance, using them as porters and sex slaves.

According to Djotodia, Kony and his henchmen have herded 7,000 of such victims with them into the Central African Republic.

"All this has led the Central African authorities, first among them the president, to consider a phase of negotiations," Kodegue said.

Djotodia in tight spot

Djotodia, whose country has been sliding into chaos since he seized power in a March coup, is himself under increasing pressure from the international community, including the United States.

He announced at a political meeting in Bangui on Thursday that he was personally in contact with the elusive Kony, whom he said "wants to come out of the bush".

But the United States, which has spearheaded the hunt since an Internet rights campaign went viral last year and thrust Kony into the international spotlight, quickly moved to cast doubt over Djotodia's assertion.

US officials told AFP that while the embattled Central African leader may have been in talks with some LRA-affiliated fighters trying to cut a deal, there was no reason to believe Kony was directly involved in any negotiations.

A 3,000-strong Ugandan-led African force is currently hunting Kony, backed by about 100 military advisors from the United States, which has offered a $5 million reward for Kony's capture.

"The United States has deployed considerable means including money, equipment and manpower to track down Kony. It is still ongoing," Kodegue said Friday.

"That's the approach they defend but we think the president's undertaking should be supported, to prevent Central Africa from sinking into another cycle of violence," he said.

Djotodia has failed to rein in his former rebel comrades and the UN has said it might have to send in thousands of peacekeepers amid growing concern a possible genocide was in the making.

Kodegue called for the international community's assistance in dealing with Kony "because Central Africa already has too many problems."

"The United States managed to pin down Bin Laden because it kept several tracks open," he said, in reference to the May 2011 raid in which the Al Qaeda supremo was slain.

"All options have to be explored with regards to Kony. If they want to establish contact with him, they are steps to be taken," the spokesman said.

Several attempts at peace negotiations have failed in the past and while a string of shadowy middlemen have claimed to have a direct line to Kony, he has not been seen or heard in public in years.

Eight years ago, Kony and four of his lieutenants became the subjects of the Hague-based ICC's first indictments.

The former altar boy was charged with 12 counts of crimes against humanity and 21 counts of war crimes.

According to a recent UN report, the LRA -- which once claimed to fight for the Ten Commandments -- is responsible for 100,000 deaths over the past 25 years.

It is also estimated to have abducted up to 100,000 children and caused the displacement of 2.5 million people over the same period.