A man claiming to be one of the top commanders of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) has surrendered to U.S. forces in the Central African Republic, said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.
She said the man who gave himself up claimed to be senior LRA leader Dominic Ongwen and was in the custody of U.S. forces deployed in the hunt for warlord Joseph Kony in the CAR. "If the individual proves to be Ongwen, his defection would represent a historic blow to the LRA's command structure," she said.
"Efforts to establish full and positive identification continue, so I don't have confirmation of that at this point," Psaki said.
According to the United Nations, the Kony-led LRA has killed more than 100,000 people and kidnapped more than 60,000 children in an almost three-decade reign of terror in central Africa.
In 2013, the U.S. offered up to $5 million for the capture of Kony, who is also wanted by the International Criminal Court along with Ongwen and two other lieutenants.
There is also a $5 million bounty offered for information leading to the arrest, transfer and conviction of Ongwen, whom the State Department accuses of "murder, enslavement and cruel treatment of civilians."
The ICC issued an arrest warrant for Ongwen in 2005 on charges of three counts of crimes against humanity and four of war crimes.
According to LRACrisisTracker.com, set up by two nongovernmental organizations to map atrocities by the LRA, Ongwen was abducted as a 10-year-old while on his way to school and conscripted by the LRA.
He rose rapidly through the organization's ranks, becoming a major at 18 and a brigadier by his late 20s.
But he has reportedly had a volatile relationship with Kony.
"The apprehension of the LRA commander Dominic Ongwen would be a major opportunity to advance justice for the LRA's long record of atrocities," said Ida Sawyer, a senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. "He should be promptly surrendered to face justice."
The LRA emerged in northern Uganda in 1986, where it claimed to fight in the name of the Acholi ethnic group against the regime of President Yoweri Museveni.
But over the years the LRA has roved across the porous borders of the region.
It expanded its reign of terror from Uganda to southern Sudan before shifting to northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, finally crossing into southeastern CAR in March 2008.
Combining religious mysticism with an astute guerrilla mind and bloodthirsty ruthlessness, Kony has turned scores of young girls into his personal sex slaves while claiming to be fighting to impose the Bible's Ten Commandments.
Al Jazeera and wire services